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PUBLISHER'S 
CONFESSION 




NEW YORK 

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO. 
1905 



COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY 
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO. 

Published March, jqoj 




CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

I THE RUINOUS POLICY OF LARGE ROYAL- 
TIES 3 

II WHY "BAD" NOVELS SUCCEED AND 

"GOOD "ONES FAIL . . . .27 
III ARE AUTHORS AN IRRITABLE TRIBE ? . 45 
IV HAS PUBLISHING BECOME COMMERCIAL- 
IZED? 61 

V HAS THE UNKNOWN AUTHOR A CHANCE ? 79 
VI THE PRINTER WHO ISSUES BOOKS AT THE 

AUTHOR'S EXPENSE . . . .99 
VII THE ADVERTISING OF BOOKS STILL EX- 
PERIMENTAL 115' 

VIII THE STORY OF A BOOK FROM AUTHOR 

TO READER 131 

IX THE PRESENT LIMITS OF THE BOOK 

MARKET 147 

X PLAIN WORDS TO AUTHORS AND PUB- 
LISHERS ...... 163 



PUBLISHERS' NOTE 

There is expressed in these chapters 
so much that is practical and of interest 
to those engaged in the various branches 
of authorship, book-making and book- 
selling that the present publishers have 
availed themselves of the permission of 
the Boston Transcript, in which they 
originally appeared, to gather them to- 
gether in book form. 

NEW YORK, March, 1905. 



The Ruinous Policy of Large 
Royalties 



A Publisher's Confession 



CHAPTER I 

THE RUINOUS POLICY OF LARGE 
ROYALTIES 

How it Operates to the Disadvantage of Both Au~ 
thor and Publisher -The Actual Facts and Fig- 
ures Authors' Earnings Greatly Exaggerated 
by the Press Books Sell Too Cheaply What 
a Fair Price for All Concerned Would Be. 

The author of a very popular book, 
who has written another that will be as 
popular, wishes me to publish it, so he 
is kind enough to say; and he came to 
see me and asked on what terms I 
would bring it out. In these strenuous 
times he can dictate his own terms to 
his publisher; and I happened to know 
that two houses had made him offers. 



4 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

I confess, since I am old-fashioned, 
that this method of an author shocks 
me. If he does not openly hawk his 
book and his reputation, he at least 
tempts one publisher to bid against 
another, and thus invites the publisher 
to regard it as a mere commodity. But 
I suppressed my dislike of the method 
and went straight about the business of 
getting the book, for I should like to 
have it. 

" I will give you," I said, " twenty per 
cent, royalty, and I will pay you $5,000 
on the day of publication." 

The words had not fallen from my 
mouth before I wished to recall them, 
for the publishing of books cannot be 
successfully done on these terms. There 
are only two or three books a year that 
can pay so much. 

"I will consider it," said he. 

Abject as I was, I recovered myself 
far enough to say: "No, the offer is 
made for acceptance now or never 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 5 

before this conversation ends. I cannot 
keep it open." 

"My dear sir," I went on, for I was 
regaining something of my normal cour- 
age, "do you know what twenty per 
cent, royalty on a $1.50 book means? 
You receive thirty cents for every copy 
sold. My net profit is about four or five 
cents a copy, if I manufacture it well 
and advertise it generously; and I sup- 
ply the money in advance. I make an 
advance to you; I pay the papermaker 
in advance of my collections, the printer 
everybody ; and I wait from ninety to 
one hundred and twenty days after the 
book is sold to get my money. My 
profit is so small that it may vanish and 
become a loss by any misadventure, 
such as too much advertising, the print- 
ing of too large an edition, or the loss of 
an account with a failed bookdealer. I 
have no margin as an insurance against 
accidents or untoward events. I am 
doing business with you on an unfairly 



6 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

generous basis. I am paying you all the 
money that the book can earn perhaps 
more than it can earn for the pleasure 
of having you on my list. If I make 
money, I must make it on books for 
which I pay a smaller royalty." 

" But I can get twenty per cent, from 
almost any other publisher," he replied, 
truthfully. "Why should I consider 
less from you?" 

I could not answer him except by 
saying : 

"Yes, I am not blaming you not 
quite; but there is a grave fault in the 
system that has brought about this gen- 
eral result. You may have forgotten 
that this high royalty is a direct tempta- 
tion to a publisher to skimp his adver- 
tising. You expect generous advertis- 
ing of the book. Well, I can never sign 
an order for an advertisement of it with- 
out recalling the very narrow margin of 
profit that I have. An order for $500 
worth of advertising will take as much 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 7 

net profit as I can make on several thou- 
sand copies. 

"Again, when I come to manufacture 
the book, I cannot help recalling that 
gilt letters on the cover will increase the 
cost by one cent or two cents a copy. 
You tempt me to do all my work in the 
cheapest possible way." 

Well, we are good friends, this writer 
and I, and we signed the contract. He 
is to receive a royalty of twenty per 
cent., and a payment on his royalty 
account of $5,000 on the day of publi- 
cation. 

When, therefore, I had the pleasure of 
receiving the friends of another author, 
who told me that he would give me the 
book for twenty per cent, royalty 
($5,000 cash on publication) if I cared to 
read it, I replied, "No." 

NO MONEY ON THAT BASIS 

I had recovered. I said: "I cannot 
make money on that basis. Neither 



8 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

can other legitimate and conscientious 
publishers, who build their business to 
last. I will let novels alone, if I must. 
I will do a small business but sounder. 
If that is your condition, do not leave 
the book. I will pay you a sliding scale 
of royalties: I cannot give you twenty 
per cent." 

And he went away. I had just as lief 
another publisher lost money on the 
book as to lose it myself. True, the 
public, the reading public and the writ- 
ing public, will regard the success of the 
book (if it succeed) as evidence of a rival 
publisher's ability and enterprise. He 
will win temporary reputation. He will 
seem to be in the ' ' swim' ' of success. He 
will publish flaming advertisements, in 
the hope of obtaining other successful 
^ authors ; and he will attract them, for 
much book advertising is done not with 
the hope of selling the book, but chiefly 
to impress writers with the publisher's 
energy and generosity. But there's no 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 9 

profit and great risk in business con- 
ducted in this way. 

There is positive danger, in fact. 
And I owe it to myself and to all the 
men and women whose books I publish 
to see to it first of all that my own busi- 
ness is sound, and is kept sound. In no 
other way can I discharge my obliga- 
tions to them and keep my publishing 
house on its proper level instead of on 
the level of a mere business shop. 

The rise of royalties paid to popular 
authors is the most important recent 
fact in the publishing world. It has 
not been many years since ten per cent. ' 
was the almost universal rule ; and a ten 
per cent, royalty on a book that sells 
only reasonably well is a fair bargain 
between publisher and author. If the 
publisher do his work well make the 
book well, advertise it well, keep a well- 
ordered and well-managed and energetic 
house this division of the profits is a 
fair division except in the case of a 



io A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

book that has a phenomenally large 
sale. Then he can afford to pay more. 
Unless a book has a pretty good sale, it 
will not leave a profit after paying r ^ore 
than a ten per cent, royalty. 

Figure it for yourself. The retail 
price of a novel is $1.50. The retail 
bookseller buys it for about ninety 
cents. The wholesale bookseller buys it 
from the publisher for about eighty 
cents. This eighty cents must pay the 
cost of manufacturing the book ; of sell- 
ing it; of advertising it; must pay its 
share towards the cost of keeping the 
publisher's establishment going and 
this is a large and increasing cost; it 
must pay the author ; and it must leave 
the publisher himself some small profit. 
Now, if out of this eighty cents which 
must be divided for so many purposes, 
the author receives a royalty of twenty 
per cent, (thirty cents a copy), there is 
left, of course, only fifty cents to pay all 
the other items. No other half-dollar 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION n 

in this world has to suffer such careful 
and continuous division! I have met 
a good many authors who have never 
realised that a ten per cent, royalty 
means nearly twenty per cent, on what 
the publisher actually sells the book for, 
and that a twenty per cent, royalty is 
nearly forty per cent, on the actual 
wholesale price. 

There are several things of greater 
importance in the long run to an author 
than a large royalty. One of them is the 
unstinted loyalty of his publisher. His 
publisher must have a chance to be gen- 
erous to his book. He ought not to feel 
that he must seek a cheap printer, that 
he must buy cheap paper, that he must 
make a cheap cover, that he must too 
closely watch his advertising account. 
A publisher has no chance to be gener- 
ous to a book when he can make a profit 
on it only at the expense of its proper 
manufacture. The grasping author is, 
therefore, doing damage to his own book 



12 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

by leaving the publisher no margin of 
profit. 

\ 

THE STABILITY OF THE PUBLISHER 

There is still another thing that an 
author should set above his immediate 
income from any particular book; and 
that is the stability of his publisher. 
The publisher is a business man (he has 
need to be a business man of the highest 
type), but he is also the guardian of the 
author's property. If his institution be 
not sound and be not kept sound, the loss 
to the author in money and in standing 
may be very great. The embarrassment 
or failure of a publishing firm now and 
then causes much gossip ; for a publishing 
house is a center of publicity. But no- 
body outside the profession knows what 
practical trouble and confusion and loss 
every failure or financial embarrassment 
costs the writing world. The normal 
sale of many books is stopped. The 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 13 

authors lose in the end, and they lose 
heavily. 

Every publisher who appreciates his 
profession tries to make his house per- 
manent, with an eye not only to his own 
profit, but also to the service that he 
may do to the writers on his list. If it is 
of the very essence of banking that a 
bank shall be in sound condition and 
shall have the confidence of the com- 
munity, it is even more true that a pub- 
lishing house should be sound to the 
core and should deserve financial con- 
fidence. The publisher must do his 
business with reference to a permanent 
success. But if he must do business on 
the basis of a twenty per cent, royalty, 
he takes risks that he has no right to 
take. It deserves to be called "wild- 
cat" publishing. 

I am, therefore, not making a plea, by 
this confession, for a larger profit to the 
publisher in any narrow or personal 
sense. Every successful publisher 



14 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

really successful, mind you could make 
more money by going into some other 
business. I think that there is not a 
man of them who could not greatly in- 
crease his income by giving the same 
energy and ability to the management 
of a bank, or of some sort of industrial 
enterprise. Such men as Mr. Charles 
Scribner; Mr. George Brett, Mr. George 
H. Mifflin, could earn very much larger 
returns by their ability in banks, rail- 
roads or manufacturing, than any one 
of them earns as a publisher; for they 
are men of conspicuous ability. 

It is, therefore, not as a matter of 
mere gain to the publisher that it is im- 
portant to have the business on a sound 
and fair basis ; but it is for the sake of 
the business itself and for the sake of the 
writers themselves. 

AN AUTHOR'S BLUNDER 

Here is a true tale of a writer of good 
fiction: He made a most promising 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 15 

start. His first book, in fact, caused him 
to be sought by several publishers, who 
do not hesitate to solicit clients a 
practice that other dignified professions 
discourage. The publisher of his first 
book gave him a ten per cent, royalty. 
For his second book he demanded more. 
A rival publisher offered him twenty 
per cent. The second book also suc- 
ceeded. But the author in the mean- 
time had heard the noise of other 
publishing houses. He had made the 
acquaintance of another writer whose 
books (which were better than his) had 
sold in much greater quantities. Of 
course, the difference in sales could not 
be accounted for by the literary quali- 
ties of the books his friend had a bet- 
ter publisher than he so he concluded. 
His third book, therefore, was placed 
with a third publisher, because he 
would advertise more loudly. Well, 
that publisher failed. His failure, by 
the way, the report of the receivers 



1 6 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

showed, was caused by spending too 
much in unproductive advertising. 

Here our author stood, then, with 
three books, each issued by a different 
publishing house. What should he do 
with his fourth book? He came back to 
his second publisher, who had, natur- 
ally, lost some of his enthusiasm for such 
an author. To cut the story short, that 
* / man now has books on five publishers' 
lists. Not one of the publishers counts 
him as his particular client. In a sense 
his books are all neglected. One has 
never helped another. He has got no 
cumulative result of his work. He has 
become a sort of stray dog in the pub- 
lishing world. He has cordial relations 
with no publisher ; and his literary prod- 
uct has really defined. He scattered 
his influence, and he is paying the 
natural penalty. 

The moral of this true story (and I 
could tell half a dozen more like it) is 
that a publisher is a business man, but 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 17 

not a mere business man. He must be 
something more. He is a professional 
man also. He can do his best service 
only for those authors who inspire his 
loyalty, who enable him to make his 
publishing house permanent, and who 
leave him enough margin of profit to 
permit him to make books of which he 
can be proud. 

The present fashion of a part of the 
writing world to squeeze the last cent 
out of a book and to treat the publisher 
as a mere manufacturer and "boomer" 
cannot last. It has already passed 
its high period and is on the decline. A * 
self-respecting worm would have turned 
long ago. Even the publisher is now 
beginning to turn. 

Better still, the authors whose books 
will be remembered longest have not 
caught the fashion of demanding every- 
thing. It was that passing school of 
"booms" and bellowing that did it all 
the writers of romances 'for kitchen 



1 8 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

maids and shop girls, whose measure of 
book values was by dollars only. Such 
fashions always pass. For, if novel writ- 
ing be so profitable an industry, a large 
number of persons naturally take it up ; 
and they ruin, the market by overstock- 
ing it. 

THE "BOOMED" BOOK PASSING 

Fast passing, then praise God is 
the "boomed" book, which, having no 
merit, could once be sold by sheer adver- 
tising, in several editions of 100,000 each. 
I have made a list of the writers of books 
that during the last five or six years 
have sold in enormous editions; and 
i every one of these writers, but two, has 
lived to see his (or her) latest book sell 
far below its predecessors. One man, 
for instance, wrote a first book which 
sold more than 200,000 copies. His 
publishers announce only the sixtieth 
thousand of his latest novel, though it 
has now nearly run its course. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 19 

These are not pleasant facts. I wish 
that every novelist might have an in- 
creasing sale for every book he writes. 
They all earn more than they receive 
even the bad ones whose books prosper ; 
but the system that they brought with 
them deserves to die must die, if pub- 
lishing is to remain an honorable pro- 
fession. They brought with them the 
20 per cent, royalty, and the demand for 
an advertising outlay that was based on 
the sale of 100,000 or 200,000 copies. 
Only the keeper of dark secrets knows 
how many publishers have lost, or how 
large their losses have been, on~ 
"boomed" books. But any intelligent 
business man may take the 50 cents 
that the publisher receives for his $1.50 
novel after paying the author's 20 per 
cent, royalty, and divide it thus: 

Cost of manufacture, 

Cost of selling, 

Office expense, 

Extravagant advertising, 



20 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

Profit. 

If he can find anything left for profit, 
then he can get rich at any business. 
There have been novels so extravagantly 
advertised that the advertising cost 
alone amounted to 22 cents for every 
copy sold. The writer drove the pub- 
lisher to loss; the publisher (foolishly) 
consented in the hope of attracting 
other authors to his house. If "other 
authors" knew that the very cost of the 
bait that attracted them makes the 
publishing house unsound, they would 
not long be fooled. 

Thus it comes about, in this strange 
and fascinating world of writing and 
making and selling books, that one 
period of "whooping up" novels is end- 
ing. Half the novels advertised during 
the past few years in big medicine style 
did not pay the publishers; and any 
conservative publisher can tell you 
which half they are. 

The manufacturing novelist has al- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 21 

ways been with us. But he used to be 
an humble practitioner of the craft 
whose " output " was sold for ten cents a 
volume. He always will be with u,s, and 
his product will sell, some at ten cents a 
volume, some at $1.50. But the time 
seems about to pass when he can disturb 
the publishing situation. For the pub- 
lisher has to accept his methods when he 
accepts his work; and his methods do 
not pay either in dignity, permanency, 
or cash. If any of these be lacking 
and in proportion as they are lacking 
the results will fall short of the ideal. 
The results to be hoped for are money,- 
but not money only, but also a watchful 
care by the publisher over his author's 
reputation and growth, and a cumula- 
tive influence for his books. 

THE INCOME OP AUTHORS 

There are, perhaps, a dozen American 
novelists who have large incomes from 
their work; there are many more who 



22 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

have comfortable incomes ; but there is 
none whose income is as large as the 
writers of gossip for the literary journals 
would have us believe. It has been 
said that Harper's Magazine pays Mrs. 
Humphry Ward $15,000 for the serial 
right of each of her stories and twenty 
per cent, royalty. Miss Johnston must 
have made from $60,000 to $70,000 
from royalties on "To Have and to 
Hold," for any publisher can calculate 
^t. 

But along with these great facts let us 
humbly remember that Mr. Carnegie 
received $300,000,000 for all his steel 
mills, good will, etc. ; for the authors 
that I have named are the "million- 
aires" of the craft. I wish there were 
more. But the diligent writers of most 
good fiction, hard as they have ground 
the publishers in the rise of royalties, 
are yet nearer to Grub street than they 
are to Skibo Castle. 

The truth is but it would be a difn- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 23 

cult task to reduce such a truth to prac- 
tice that the public gets its good new 
novels too cheap. There is not a large 
enough margin of profit for author, pub- 
lisher and bookseller in a new book that 
is meant to be sold for $1.50 and that is 
often sold for $1.08. The business of 
bookmaking and bookselling is under- 
paid. There is not a publisher in the 
United States who is today making any 
large sum of money on his "general 
trade." Money is made on educational 
books, on subscription books, on maga- 
zines. But publishing, as publishing, is 
the least profitable of all the professions; 
except preaching and teaching, to each 
of which it is a sort of cousin. 



Why " Bad " Novels Succeed and 
"Good" Ones Fail 



CHAPTER II 

WHY "BAD" NOVELS SUCCEED AND 
"GOOD" ONES FAIL 

The First May Have No Literary Quality, but 
They Have a Genuine Quality Power of Con- 
struction the Main Thing in Story-Writing 
Literary Reviews of Novels are Regarded as of 
Little Value by Publishers Odd Incidents and 
Facts in the Business. 

A report on the manuscript of a novel 
made by a "literary" reader not long 
ago ended with this sentence: "This 
novel is bad enough to succeed." He 
expressed the feeling of a great many 
literary persons that fiction often suc- 
ceeds in the market in proportion to its 
" badness." And surely there are many 
instances to support such a contention 
from the "Lamplighter" to "When 
Knighthood Was in Flower." But the 
27 



28 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

" literary" view of fiction is no more 
trustworthy than the "literary" view 
of politics or of commerce; for it con- 
cerns itself more with technique than 
with substance. 

It is a hard world in which " Knight- 
hood," "Quincy Adams Sawyer" and 
"Graustark," to say nothing of "The 
One Woman," " Alice of Old Vincennes " 
and a hundred more "poor" books 
make fortunes, while Mr. Ho wells and 
Mr. James write to unresponsive mar- 
kets and even Mr. Kipling cannot find 
so many readers for a new novel as Mr. 
Bacheller of " Eben Holden." It seems 
a hard world to the professional literary 
folk; but the professional literary folk 
would find it a hard world anyhow ; for 
it has a way of preferring substance to 
color. And novels, after all, have less 
to do with literature than they have to 
do with popular amusement. 

Heaven forbid that I should make de- 
fence of bad writing, or of sensational 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 29 

literature, or of bad taste, or of any 
other thing that is below grade ; but, as 
between the professional literary class, 
and the great mass of men who buy 
" Eben Holdens" and " David Harums" 
the mass of men have the better case. 

Why does a man read a novel? Let 
us come down to common sense. He 
seeks one of two things either a real 
insight into human nature (he got that 
in "David Harum") or he seeks diver- 
sion, entertainment. A writer's style 
is only a part of the machinery of pre- 
sentation. The main thing is that he has , 
something to present. Even though I 
am a publisher I think that I know 
something about literary quality and 
literary values, and it must be owned at 
once that hardly one in a dozen of the 
very popular recent novels has any 
literary quality. But every one of 
them, nevertheless, has some very gen- 
uine and positive quality. They were 
not written by any trick, and their pop- 



30 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

ularity does not make the road to suc- 
cess any easier to find. They have 
qualities that are rarer than the merely 
literary quality. Mr. Henry James's 
novels have what is usually called the 
literary quality. Yet half the publish- 
ing houses in the United States have lost 
money on them, while the publisher and 
the author of "Richard Carvel" and 
"The Crisis" and "The Crossing" made 
a handsome sum of money from these 
books, which have no literary style. 

This does not mean a whining confes- 
sion that "literature" does not pay. 
For my part I cannot weep because Mr. 
James and Mr. Howells do not find many 
readers for their latest books. They 
find all they deserve. Mere words were 
never worth much money or worth 
much else. But, while Mr. Churchill is 
not a great writer (since he has no style), 
and while few persons of the next gen- 
eration of readers (whereby I mean 
those of year after next) are going to 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 31 

take the trouble to read his books, yet, 
for all that, they have a quality that is 
very rare in this world, a quality that 
their imitators never seem to see. They 
have construction. They have action. 
They have substance. A series of 
events come to pass in a certain order, 
by a well-laid plan. Each book makes 
its appeal as a thing built, finished, 
shapen, if not well-proportioned, sub- 
stantial. It is a real structure not a 
mere pile of bricks and lumber. The 
bricks and lumber that went into them 
are not as fine nor as good as somebody 
else may have in his brickyard and his 
lumber pile. But they are put together. 
A well shapen house of bad bricks is a 
more pleasing thing than any mere 
brick-pile whatever. 

I recall this interesting experience of a ^ 
man whose novels are now fast winning 
great popular favor. He sat down and 
wrote a story and sent it to a publisher. 
It was declined. He sent it to another. 



32 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

Again it was declined. Then he brought 
it to me. (He told me of the preceding 
declinations a year later). I told him 
frankly that it lacked construction. I 
supposed that that was the last that I 
should see of him. But about a year 
later he came again with another manu- 
script and with this interesting story. 

"Like a fool," said he, "I simply 
blazed away and wrote what I supposed 
was a novel. Nobody would publish it. 
When you said that it lacked construc- 
tion, I went to work to study the con- 
struction of a novel. I analyzed twenty. 
I found a dozen books on the subject 
which gave me some help. But there 
are few books that do help. I con- 
structed a sort of method of my own." 

That man yet has no sense of literary 
values, as they are usually considered. 
The only good quality of his style is its 
perfect directness and clearness. He 
writes blunt, plain sentences. But every 
one of them tells something. He does 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 33 

not bother himself about style, nor 
about literary quality. He fixes his 
mind on the story itself, to see that it 
has substance, form, action, proportion. 
And he worked out this new novel with 
these qualities in it. 

It was a dime novel in praise of one of 
the cardinal Christian virtues very 
earnest, very direct. But the persons in 
it were real. They not only said things, 
they did things ; and many of the things 
they did were interesting. One of our 
salesmen was asked to read the manu- 
script. " It'll sell," said he. Our liter- 
ary adviser said that it was a bald moral 
Sunday school play. " You could put it 
on the stage by cutting it here and' 
there," he declared. "But it has no 
literary quality." Both were right. 
The book has sold well. It has amused 
and interested its tens of thousands. 

The author's next book after that was 
very much better. Having learned 
something of the art of construction he 



34 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

began to think of such a detail as style. 
He re-wrote the book to make it 
"smooth." But the point is, he first 
paid attention to his construction and 
made sure that he had a story to tell. 

The enormous amount of waste work 
done by unsuccessful novel writers is 
done without taking the trouble first to 
make sure that they have a story to tell. 

Few persons have any constructive 
faculty. This is the sad fact that comes 
home at last to a man who has read 
novels in manuscript for many years. 
A publisher comes to look for construc- 
tion in a novel before he looks for style 
or literary quality. 

This confession is enough to provoke 
the literary journals to condemn the 
publishers as mere mercenary dealers in 
sensational books. Yet, while a book 
that is well constructed may not be 
"literature," very few books have a 
serious chance to become literature un- 
less they have good construction. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 35 

I, for one, and I know no publisher 
who holds a different opinion, care noth- 
ing for the judgment of the professional 
literary class. Their judgment of a 
novel, for instance, is of little value or 
instruction. It may be right often it 
is. It may be wrong. But whether 
right or wrong (and there is no way that 
I know to determine finally whether any 
judgment be right or wrong) it is of no 
practical value. A literary judgment 
of a new novel cannot affect the judg- 
ment that men will form of it ten years 
hence. Therefore it is of no permanent 
value. Neither can it affect the sales of 
a new novel. It is therefore of no prac-'- 
tical importance for the moment. I look 
upon reviews of novels as so much pub- 
licity they have value, as they tell the 
public that the book is published and 
can be bought, and as they tell somer 
thing about it which may prod the read- 
er's curiosity. Further than this they 
are of no account. Not one of the three 



36 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

publishers whose personal habits I know 
as a rule takes the trouble to read the 
reviews of novels of his own publishing. 

Novel making, then, is an industry, 
and the people who make them best con- 
cern themselves very little about what 
is usually meant by "literary values," 
and very little about their popularity. 
The writers who deliberately set out to 
write novels of great popularity have 
almost always missed it. The industry 
is an art, also, but it is not an art of 
mere fine writing. It is chiefly an art of 
construction an art of putting things 
in due proportion. This assumes, of 
course, that the novelist has things to 
put. 

The truth is, the delicate and difficult 
art of finding out just what the public 
cares for the public of this year or the 
public of ten years hence has not been 
mastered by many men, whether writ- 
ers or publishers. If you find out what 
the great public of today wants, you are 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 37 

a sensationalist. If you find out what 
the great public of ten or twenty years 
hence will want, you are a maker or a 
publisher of literature. And the public 
of the future is pretty sure to want 
something different from the public of 
today. 

Within six months after the publica- 
tion of a popular novel the publisher of 
it (other publishers, too) will receive a 
dozen or a hundred stories that have 
been suggested by it. Many an author 
of such a manuscript will write that he 
has discovered the secret of the popular 
book's success and that he has turned it 
to profit in his own effort. Such letters 
are singularly alike. The writers of 
them regard success as something won 
by a trick, as a game of cards might be 
won. These remind one, too, of the ad- 
vertisements of patent medicines ex- 
cept that the writers of them are sincere. 
They believe heartily in their discovery. 
Thus every very popular novel gives a 



38 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

great stimulus to the production of 
novels. "To Have and To Hold" 
brought cargoes of young women for 
colonists' wives to hundreds of amateur 
story writers. 

But stranger than the popularity of 
very popular novels, or than the utter 
failure of merely "literary" novels, is 
the moderate success of a certain kind of 
commonplace stories. I know a woman 
of domestic tastes who every two years 
turns off a quiet story. She has now 
written a dozen or more. They are never 
advertised. But they are well printed 
and put forth by one of our best pub- 
lishers. The "literary" world pays no 
heed to her. Her books are not even 
reviewed in the best j ournals . They lack 
distinction. But every one is sure to 
sell from ten to fifteen thousand copies. 
No amount of advertising, no amount of 
noise could increase the number of read- 
ers to twenty-five thousand; and there 
is no way to prevent a sale of from ten 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 39 

to fifteen thousand copies. Why this is 
so is one of the most baffling problems of 
psychology. But it is the rule. Authors 
of novels are known and rated among 
publishers as ten thousand, or twenty- 
five thousand, or fifty thousand, or one 
hundred thousand writers. Book after 
book reaches a certain level of popular- 
ity and stops. Mr. Marion Crawford, 
Mr. Hopkinson Smith, Miss Wilkins 
all these have their more or less con- 
stant levels. 

The lay world has no idea of the num- 
ber of novels that fail. There are one-- 
book authors all over the country. The 
publishers' hope always is that a new 
writer who makes a pretty good novel 
will do better next time. Thus the first 
book is accepted for the sake of the next 
one. The first fails, and the second is 
not wanted. There are dozens and 
dozens of such cases every year. The 
public doesn't know it, for the very 
abyss of oblivion is the place where a 



40 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

dead novel falls. Nobody knows it 
that is the tragedy but the publishers 
and the author. 

A case came to light a little while ago 
of a man who had years ago written 
novels that failed. He had been forgot- 
ten. But he took a new start. Yet he 
feared that his first failures would damn 
him with the publishers. He took 
another name, therefore. Not even his 
publishers knew who he really was. He 
succeeded and he concealed his identity 
until he died. 

The publisher's loss on an unsuccess- 
ful novel may be little or big. All pub- 
lishers lose much on unsuccessful ven- 
tures in fiction, chiefly on young authors 
who are supposed to have a future, or on 
old authors who have a " literary " repu- 
tation and have reached that ghostly 
period of real decline when they walk in 
dreams from one publishing house to 
another. 

But there is generally a reason for 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 41 

success or for failure. The trouble is 
that the reason often does not appear 
soon enough. The chief reason for the 
success of a novel is the commonplace 
one that it contains a story. It may 
be told ill or it may be told well, but 
there is a story. And the chief reason 
for failure is the lack of a story. A novel 
may be ever so well written, if it have 
no story, the public will not care for it. 

I wonder if there be any light in this 
very obvious discovery. Simple as it 
seems, it costs every publishing house 
a pretty penny every year to find it out ;, 
and as soon as we find it out about one 
writer we forget it about another ! It is 
a great truth that does not remain dis- 
covered. 



Are Authors an Irritable Tribe ? 



CHAPTER III 
ARE AUTHORS AN IRRITABLE TRIBE? 

An Emphatic Answer in the Negative They Are 
Gentlemen and Ladies and Treat Their Pub- 
lisher with Courtesy Bonds of Friendship 
Thus Formed That Endure Some Amusing 
and Nettling Exceptions Cranks Among the 
Scholars The Inconstant Author Who Is Al- 
ways Changing Publishers Why a Publishing 
Trust Is Impossible. 

The old and persistent notion that the 
writers of books are an irritable tribe, 
hard to deal with, and manageable only 
by flattery if it was ever true, is not 
true now. During an experience of a 
good many years I have suffered a dis- 
courtesy from only two. Both these 
were "philosophers" not even poets, 
nor novelists. They wrote books that 
the years have proved are dull; and, 

45 



46 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

when it became my duty to disappoint 
them, although I hope I did it courte- 
ously, they wrote ill-tempered letters. 
The hundreds of other writers of all sorts 
that I have had the pleasure to deal with 
have conducted themselves as men and 
women of common sense, and most of 
them are men and women of very un- 
usual attractiveness. I doubt whether a 
man of any other calling has the privi- 
lege of dealing with persons of such 
graciousness and of such consideration. 

But the women who write require 
more attention than the men. Their 
imaginations are more easily excited by 
the hope of success, and few of them 
have had business experience. They 
want to be fair and appreciate frank 
dealing. Yet they like to have every- 
thing explained in great detail. 

One woman, now one of our most 
successful novelists successful both as 
a writer of excellent books and as an 
earner of a good income was kind 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 47 

enough to seek my advice about one of 
her early novels. It was a book that she 
ought not to have written; the subject 
was badly chosen. I frankly told her so. 
The whole reading world has told her so 
since. But naturally she did not agree 
with me. She took the book to another 
publisher. Two years passed. She had 
a second novel ready. This was one of 
the best American stories of a decade. 
To my great gratification I received a 
letter from her one day asking if I cared 
to read it. Of course I said yes. 

Then came another telling how she 
had never changed her opinion of her 
former book not a jot I must under- 
stand that thoroughly. If that were 
clearly understood she went on to say 
she would like to have me publish the 
new book on two conditions: (i) That 
I should myself read it immediately and 
say frankly what I thought of it, and (2) 
that I should pay her a royalty large 
enough to repair her wounded feelings 



48 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

about the former book. Subsequently 
she added another condition 

"You may publish it," she said, "if 
you heartily believe in the book." 

Very shrewdly said that "heartily 
believe in the book." For the secret of 
good publishing lies there. There are 
some books that a publisher may suc- 
ceed with without believing in them a 
dictionary or a slapdash novel, for ex- 
amples. But a book that has any ster- 
ling quality a real book ought never 
to have the imprint of a publisher who is 
not really a sharer of its fortunes, a true 
partner with the author. For only with 
such a book can he do his best. 

I did believe in this book. As soon as 
it was in type I required every man in 
my office who had to do with it to read 
it the writer of "literary notes," the 
salesman and even the shipping clerk. 
When the author next called I introduced 
to her all these. They showed their 
enthusiasm. She was convinced. The 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 49 

book succeeded in the market almost 
beyond her expectations. It is a good 
book. Everyone of us believes in it and 
believes in her. 

She is not a crank, " but only a wo- 
man." We have our reward in her 
friendship and she is generous enough to 
think that we have done her some ser- 
vice. We esteem it a high privilege to be 
her publishers. 

But God save me from another wo- 
man who has won a conspicuous success 
in the market. The first question she 
ever asked me was : 

"Are you a Christian?" 

" Do I look like a Jew or a Mohamme- 
dan?" I asked. 

She never forgave me. Her novel had 
a great religious motive. It sold by the 
tens of thousands and most maudlin 
emotionalists in the land have read it. 
But I do not publish it. To do so, I 
should have had to pay the price of 
being "converted." Now this lady is 



So A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

a crank. But it is not fair to call her 
books literature. 

The veriest crank of all is our great 
scholar. It is an honor to publish the re- 
sults of his scholarship (few parsnips as 
it butters), for the man's work is as at- 
tractive as he is odd. He thinks himself 
the very soul of fairness. Yet he comes 
at frequent intervals wishing so to 
change his contract as to make publish- 
ing his books an even more expensive 
luxury than it was before. A contract 
is to him a thing to make endless ex- 
periments with. When we were once 
driven to desperation, one of my asso- 
ciates suggested that we propose half a 
dozen unimportant changes in it, on the 
theory that change any change was 
all he wanted. It was an inspired sug- 
gestion. A great scholar, a restless 
child. But some day (we feel) he will 
break over all traces, and we are all afraid 
of him. 

But very sane and sensible men and 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 51 

women are most of those who succeed 
in winning the public favor. Some are 
grasping, as other men are. One, for in- 
stance, whose book had earned $7,000 in 
two years, demanded a prepayment of 
$8,000 for the next book. A compro- 
mise was made on $2,000 ! That was the 
measure of my folly, for the book is 
waning in its popularity and has hardly 
earned this prepaid royalty. 

An author came to my office one day 
indignant because his novel was not 
more extensively advertised. There was 
the usual explanation it would not 
pay. He had money to spare and he 
proposed to advertise it himself. He 
wrote the advertisements, he selected 
the journals in which the advertise- 
ments should appear, and he inserted 
them $1,000 worth. 

By some strange fate the sales of the 
book began just then greatly to decline. 
They have kept declining since, and why 
nobody can tell. When the public has 



52 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

bought a certain number of copies of a 
novel of one novel it may be 1,000 
copies, of another 100,000 copies there 
is nothing that can be done to make 
it buy another 1,000 or 100,000. It 
seems to know when it has enough. 
Take more it will not. The worst 
"crank" that any publisher ever en- 
countered is not an author; it is the 
public, unreasoning, illogical, uncon- 
vincible, stolid! 

Odd persons are found in every craft. 
But I think that there are fewer odd ones 
among successful writers than among 
successful lawyers, for instance. And 
this is what one would naturally expect, 
but for the traditional notion that writ- 
ers are unbalanced. Who else is so well 
balanced as the writer of good books? 
He must have sanity and calmness and 
judgment, a sense of good proportion, an 
appreciation of right conduct and of all 
human relations, else he could not make 
books of good balance and proportion. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 53 

Most writers have few financial deal- 
ings, and they often innocently pro- 
pose impracticable things. But this is 
not a peculiar trait of writers. Most 
preachers and many women show it. I 
have known a successful college presi- 
dent, for instance, to cut a paragraph 
out of a proof sheet with a pair of scis- 
sors, imagining that this would cause it 
to be taken out by the printers. 

They are appreciative, too ; and they 
make the most interesting friends in the 
world. Almost all writers of books work 
alone. Lawyers work with clients and 
with associated and opposing lawyers". 
Even teachers have the companionship 
of their pupils in the work. Men of most 
crafts work with their fellows, and they 
forget how much encouragement they 
owe to this fellowship. A dreary task is 
made light by it and monotonous labor 
is robbed of its weariness. But the 
writer works alone. 

Almost the first man to be taken into 



54 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

his confidence about his work is his pub- 
lisher. If the publisher be appreciative 
and sympathetic and render a real ser- 
vice, how easily and firmly the writer is 
won. A peculiarly close friendship fol- 
lows in many cases in most cases, per- 
haps, certainly in most cases when the 
author's books are successful. 

And this is why a great publishing 
trust, or "merger" is impossible. The 
successful publisher sustains a relation 
' to the successful author that is not easily 
transferable. It is a personal relation. 
J\. great corporation cannot take a real 
publisher's place in his attitude to the 
authors he serves. 

This is the reason, too, why the 
\ ,^\ "authors' agents" seldom succeed in 

raising the hopes of unsuccessful writ- 
ers. As soon as a writer and a publisher 
have come into a personal relation that 
is naturally profitable and pleasant, a 
"go-between" has no place. There is 
no legitimate function for him. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 55 

Writers are as constant in their rela- 
tions as other men and women. As they 
acquire experience, they become more 
constant. Every one for himself works 
his way to this conclusion once having 
an appreciative and successful publisher, 
it is better to hold to him. And the 
strong friendships that grow out of this 
relation are among the most precious 
gains to each. 

One publisher said to another the 
other day: "I see by your announces 
ments that one of my authors has gone 
to you you are welcome." 

"Yes," was the reply, "I have in al- 
most every instance made a mistake 
when I have taken in a dissatisfied * 
writer one cannot make lasting friends 
with them." 

Every great publishing house has been j 
built on the strong friendships between 
writers and publishers. There is, in fact, 
no other sound basis to build on ; for the 
publisher cannot do his highest duty to 



56 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

any author whose work he does not ap- 
preciate, and with whom he is not in 
sympathy. Now, when a man has an 
appreciation of your work and sym- 
pathy for it, he wins you. This is the 
simplest of all psychological laws the 
simplest of all laws of friendship and one 
of the soundest. 

Those who know the personal history 
of the publishing houses that in recent 
years have failed or met embarrass- 
ments know that, in most cases, one 
cause of decline was the drawing apart 
of publishers and authors. When auth- 
ors begin to regard their publishers as 
mere business agents, and publishers to 
regard authors as mere "literary men" 
with whom they have only business 
relations, the beginning of a decline has 
come. 

I recall as one of the pleasantest days 
of my life the day on which I accepted a 
book by an author I had never before 
seen. So pleasant was our correspond- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 57 

ence that I took the first occasion I 
could to go nearly a thousand miles to 
see him. In his own house we talked 
about his literary plans, and I spent a 
day always to be remembered. Our 
friendship began then. Of course I was 
interested in his work you cannot long 
feign an interest that you do not feel. 
This friendship has lasted now long 
enough to make it very much more se- 
cure a bond than any merely commer- 
cial service could have become. 

Every publisher's experience is the 
same if he be a real publisher and will 
long remain a real publisher. Else he 
would be only a printer and a salesman, 
and mere printers and salesmen have 
not often built publishing houses. For 
publishing houses have this distinction 
over most other commercial institutions 
they rest on the friendship of the most 
interesting persons in the world, the 
writers of good books. 

The more formal cultivation of 



58 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

friendly relations such as the famous 
dinners that some publishers used regu- 
larly to give to writers has gone out of 
fashion. There are yet a few set dinners 
in the routine of several American pub- 
lishing houses. But every true publisher 
knows the authors of his books knows 
them as his friends ; and the tradition of 
irritability is false. It is usually the un- 
successful who are irritable, whether 
they be authors or not. 



Has Publishing Become Commer- 
cialized ? 



CHAPTER IV 

HAS PUBLISHING BECOME COMMER- 
CIALIZED? 

A Charge Fairly Met and Its Truths Admitted 
Many Features of the Business in Which a Low 
Tone Prevails The Literary Solicitor an Ab- 
horrent Creature On the Whole, However, 
Commercial Degradation Prevails Less with 
Publishers Than in Many Other Callings The 
Confidence Authors Have in Them Is Their 
Best Asset, 

Authorship and publishing the 
whole business of producing contem- 
poraneous literature has for the mo- 
ment a decided commercial squint. It 
would be wrong to say, as one some- 
times hears it said, that it has been de- 
graded ; for it has probably not suffered 
as nearly a complete commercialization 
as the law has suffered, for instance. 
But that fine indifference to commercial 
61 



62 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

results which was once supposed to be 
characteristic of the great publishers 
does not exist today. Perhaps it never 
existed except in memoirs and literary 
journals ! But there was a less obvious 
effort to make money in the days of the 
first successful American publishing 
houses than there is now. 

The old publishing houses put forth 
schoolbooks; and many a dignified 
literary venture was "financed" by 
money made from the sale of textbooks 
and subscription books. But now the 
greater part of the money made from 
these two special departments is made 
by houses that publish nothing else. 
The making of schoolbooks and the 
making of subscription-books have been 
specialized, and almost separated from 
general publishing. Two great textbook 
houses have made large incomes; and 
they publish nothing but schoolbooks. 
These profits, which were once at the 
service of literature, are now withdrawn 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 63 

from it. The " general " publisher has to 
make all his profits on his "general" 
books. The necessity is the heavier on 
him, therefore, to make every book pay. 
This is one reason why the general pub- 
lisher has to watch his ledger closely. 

Another reason for greater emphasis 
on the financial side of literary produc- 
tion is the enormously increased ex- 
pense of conducting a general publishing 
house. The mere manufacture of books 
is perhaps a trifle cheaper than it used to 
be, but every other item of expense has 
been increased enormously within a 
generation. It costs more to sell books 
than it ever cost before. Advertising 
rates have been doubled or trebled, and 
more advertising must be done. Even 
a small general publishing house must 
spend as much as $30,000 or $50,000 a 
year in general advertising. There are 
many houses that each spend a great 
deal more than this every year. 

The author, too, it must be remem- 



64 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

bered, has become commercial. He de- 
mands and he receives a larger share of 
the gross receipts from his book than 
authors ever dreamed of receiving in the 
days of the old-time publisher. All the 
other expenses of selling books have in- 
creased. There was a time when pub- 
lishing houses needed no travelling 
salesmen. Now every house of any im- 
portance has at least two. They go 
everywhere, with "dummies" and pros- 
pectuses of books long before they are 
ready for the market. Other items of 
"general expense" besides advertising 
and salesmen and ever-increasing rent, 
are the ever-growing demands of the 
trade for posters and circulars; corres- 
pondence grows more and more; more 
and more are special "window dis- 
plays" required, for which the publisher 
pays. All the while, too, books are sold 
on long time. As a rule they are not paid 
for by many dealers till six months after 
they are manufactured. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 65 

All these modern commercial methods 
have added to the publisher's expense or 
risk; and for these reasons his business 
has become more like any other manu- 
facturing business than it once seemed 
to be perhaps more than it once was. 
Of course there are publishers there 
always were such who look only to 
their ledgers as a measure of their suc- 
cess. These are they who have really 
demoralized the profession, and the 
whole publishing craft has suffered by 
their methods. 

It was once a matter of honor that one 
publisher should respect the relation ' 
established between another publisher 
and a writer, as a physician respects the 
relation established between another 
physician and a patient. Three or four 
of the best publishing houses still live 
and work by this code. And they have 
the respect of all the book world. 
Authors and readers, who do not know 
definitely why they hold them in esteem, 



66 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

discern a high sense of honor and con- 
duct in them. Character makes its way 
from any man who has it down a long 
line everybody who touches a sterling 
character comes at last to feel it both in 
conduct and in product. The very best 
traditions of publishing are yet a part of 
the practice of the best American pub- 
lishing houses, which are conducted by 
men of real character. 

But there are others others who keep 
" literary drumrAers," men who go to see 
popular writers and solicit books. The 
authors of very popular books them- 
selves also some of them at least put 
themselves up at auction, going from 
publisher to publisher or threatening to 
go. This is demoralization and com- 
mercialization with a vengeance. But 
it is the sin of the authors. 

As a rule, this method has not suc- 
ceeded; or it has not succeeded long. 
There are two men in the United States 
who have gone about making commer- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 67 

cial calls on practically every man and 
woman who has ever written a success- 
ful book ; and they are not well thought 
of by most of the writers whom they see. 
Every other publisher hears of their 
journeyings and of their "drumming." 
Sometimes they have secured immediate 
commercial results, but as a rule they 
have lost more than they have gained. 
The permanent success of every publish- 
ing house is built on the confidence and 
the esteem of those who write books. 
When a house forfeits that, it begins to 
lose. Its very foundations begin to be- 
come insecure. 

Commercial as this generation of writ- 
ers may be, almost every writer of books 
has an ambition to win literary esteem. 
They want dignity. They seek reputa- 
tion on as high a level as possible. 
"The trouble with 'the whole business" 
(I quote from a letter from a successful 
novelist) " is that novel-writing has be- 
come so very common. 'Common' is 



68 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

the word. It is no longer distinguished. 
What I want is distinction. Money I 
must have some money at least; but 
I want also to be distinguished." That 
is a frank confession that almost every 
writer makes sooner or later. 

Now, when a publishing house forfeits 
distinction it, too, becomes common, 
and loses its chance to confer a certain 
degree of distinction. And literary 
"drummers" have this effect authors 
who can confer distinction shun their 
houses. The literary solicitor, therefore, 
can work only on a low level; and the 
houses that use him are in danger of 
sinking to a low level. 

The truth is, it is a personal service 
that the publisher does for the author, 
almost as personal a service as the phy- 
sician does for his patient or the lawyer 
for his client. It is not merely a commer- 
cial service. Every great publisher knows 
this and almost all successful authors 
find it out, if they do not know it at first. 



'A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 69 

The ideal relation between publisher 
and author requires this personal ser- 
vice. It even requires enthusiastic ser- 
vice. "Do you thoroughly believe in 
this book? and do you believe in me?" 
these are the very proper questions that 
every earnest writer consciously or un- 
consciously puts to his publisher. Even 
the man who writes the advertisements 
of books must believe in them. Else his 
advertisements will not ring true. The 
salesmen must believe what they say. 
The booksellers and the public will soon 
discover whether they believe it. They 
catch the note of sincerity the public 
is won; the author succeeds. Or they 
catch the note of insincerity and the 
book lags. 

This is the whole story of good pub- 
lishing. Good books to begin with, then 
a personal sincerity on the part of the 
publisher. And there is no lasting sub- 
stitute for these things. 

The essential weakness in most of even 



70 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

the best publishing houses of our day is 
the lack of personal literary help to 
authors by the owners of the publishing 
houses themselves. Almost every writer 
wishes to consult somebody. If they do 
not wish advice, they at least wish sym- 
pathy. Every book is talked over with 
somebody. Now, when a publishing 
house has a head an owner who will 
read every important manuscript, and 
freely and frankly talk or write about it, 
and can give sympathetic suggestions, 
that is the sort of publishing house that 
will win and hold the confidence of the 
best writers. From one point of view the 
publisher is a manufacturer and sales- 
man. From another point of view he 
is the personal friend and sympathetic 
adviser of authors a man who has a 
knowledge of literature and whose judg- 
ment is worth having. A publisher who 
lacks the ability to do this high and inti- 
mate service may indeed succeed for a 
time as a mere manufacturer and seller 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 71 

of books; but he can add little to the 
best literary impulses or tendencies of 
his time ; nor is he likely to attract the 
best writers. 

And in all the noisy rattle of com- 
mercialism the writers of our own gen- 
eration who are worth most on a pub- 
lisher's list respond to the true publish- 
ing personality as readily as writers did 
before the day of commercial methods. 
All the changes that have come in the 
profession, therefore, have not after all 
changed its real character as it is prac- 
tised on its higher levels. And this rule 
will hold true that no publishing house 
can win and keep a place on the highest 
level that does not have at le^st one man 
who possesses this true publishing per- 
sonality. 

There is much less reason to fear the 
commercial degradation of many other 
callings than the publishers'. 

A louder complaint of commercialism 
has been provoked by the unseemly 



72 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

advertising of novels than by any other 
modern method of publishers. Now this 
is a curious and interesting thing. A 
man or woman writes a story (let us call 
it a story, though it be a mild mush of 
mustard, warranted to redden the faded 
cheeks of sickly sentimentality) which, 
for some reason that nobody can ex- 
plain, has the same possibilities of popu- 
larity as Salvation Soap. A saponace- 
ous publisher puts it out ; he advertises 
it in his soapy way; people buy it 
sometimes two hundred or three hun- 
dred thousand of them. 

Behold ! a new way has been found to 
write books that sell, and a new way to 
sell them. Hundreds of writers try the 
easy trick. Dozens of minor publishers 
see their way to fortune. But the trick 
cannot be imitated, and the way to 
fortune remains closed. It is only 
now and then that a novel has a big 
"run" by this method. The public 
does not see the hundreds of failures. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 73 

It sees only the occasional accidental 
success. 

There is no science, no art, no litera- 
ture in the business. It is like writing 
popular songs: One "rag- time" tune 
will make its way in a month from one 
end of the country to the other. A hun- 
dred tune-makers try their hands at the 
trick not one of their tunes goes. The 
same tune-maker who "scored a suc- 
cess" often fails the next time. There 
is, I think, not a single soap-novelist who 
has put forth a subsequent novel of as 
great popularity as his "record- 
breaker," and several publishing houses 
have failed through unsuccessful efforts 
at the brass-band method. 

This is not publishing. It is not even 
commercialism. It is a form of gamb- 
ling. A successful advertising "dodge" 
makes a biscuit popular, or a whiskey, or 
a shoe, or a cigarette, or anything. Why 
not a book, then ? This would be all that 
need be said about it but for the " liter- 



74 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

ary" journals. They forthwith fall to 
gossiping, and keep up a chatter about 
"great sellers," and bewail commercial- 
ism in literature, until we all begin to 
believe that the whole business of book- 
writing and book-publishing has been 
degraded. Did it ever occur to you that 
in the "good old days" of publishing 
there were no magazines that retailed 
the commercial and personal gossip of 
the craft? 

As nearly as I can make out the pub- 
lishing houses in the United States that 
are conducted as dignified institutions 
are conducted with as little degrading 
commercialism as the old houses whose 
history has become a part of English 
literature, and I believe that they are 
conducted with more ability. Certainly 
not one of them has made a colossal for- 
tune. Certainly not one of them ever 
failed to recognize or to encourage a high 
literary purpose if it were sanely di- 
rected. Every one of them every year 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 75 

invests in books and authors that they 
know cannot yield a direct or immediate 
profit, and they make these investments 
because they feel ennobled by trying to 
do a service to literature. 

The great difficulty is to recognize 
literature when it first comes in at the 
door, for one quality of literature is that 
it is not likely even to know itself. The 
one thing that is certain is that the criti- 
cal crew and the academic faculty are 
sure not to recognize it at first sight. 
To know its royal qualities at once under 
strange and new garments that is to be 
a great publisher, and the glory of that 
achievement is as great as it ever was. 



Has the Unkown Author a Chance ? 



CHAPTER V 

HAS THE UNKNOWN AUTHOR A 
CHANCE? 

A Popular Illusion Based on "Graustark" and 
"David Harunt" Dispelled Publishers Blunder 
More Often in Welcoming Than in Rejecting 
Manuscripts of the "New Man" Guess Work 
Enters Largely Into the Fate of a Novel How 
Publishers Judge Manuscripts and How " Read- 
ing " Is Done. 

It will probably always be believed by 
many persons that publishing houses do 
not give careful attention to book manu- 
scripts that come from strangers. The 
case of " David Harum" did much to fix 
this notion in the public mind. The 
manuscript was declined by three or 
four publishers before it was accepted by 
the Appletons. Its declination was an 
evidence of bad financial book-judg- 

79 



8o A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

ment, but it is not proof that it was 
carelessly considered. Most publishers' 
readers are literary folk, pure and sim- 
ple. Not one in a hundred has a good 
financial judgment of a manuscript. As 
a literary product, judged by academic 
standards, there was not much in " David 
Harum" to commend it. The publish- 
ers who rejected it acted on the readers' 
reports. When it went to the Apple- 
tons, somebody was shrewd enough to 
see that if it were shortened and put in 
somewhat better form, it would have a 
commercial value. A publishing judg- 
ment was passed on it there and not 
merely a conventional literary judg- 
ment. 

Or, take the case of " Graustark." It 
was declined at least by one publisher. 
There is, perhaps, not a "literary" 
reader in the world who would have 
commended it in manuscript, or (for 
that matter) who will commend it now. 
It does violence to every literary canon. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 81 

But a Chicago publisher, by some divine 
or subterranean suggestion, saw a 
chance for it. Its roughest edges were 
hewn off with an axe, and it was put 
forth. There have now appeared four 
" Graustark" books, three of which have 
each sold perhaps a hundred times as 
many copies as Mr. Howell's latest novel 
will sell. 

The difference between a mere literary 
judgment and a publishing judgment in- 
dicates the greatest weakness in the or- 
ganizations of most publishing houses. 
The publisher himself is usually a busi- 
ness man. He has to concern himself 
with the financial work of his house 
with the manufacture and the sale of 
books. In a great measure he relies, for 
his judgment of literary values, on his 
advisers and readers. As a rule these 
advisers and readers are employed men 
or women. They know nothing about 
what may be called the commercial 
value of books. Many of them know 



82 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

nothing about the losses or the profits on 
the books that they have commended. 
They have had no experience in selling 
books. These facts indicate the wrong 
organization of most publishing houses. 
Yet the faithfulness that they show to as- 
piring authors is amazing; they plough 
conscientiously through thousands of 
manuscripts looking for the light of 
some possible genius, and they com- 
mend dozens of books where their em- 
ployers accept a single volume. 

But the publisher does acquire a sort 
of sixth sense about a book. He may or 
he may not know literary values, but he 
comes to have a peculiar sort of knowl- 
edge of the commercial possibilities of 
books. If he takes "literary read- 
ers" judgments and does not read 
manuscripts himself, he will now and 
then let a " David Harum " pass through 
his hands. To avoid such mistakes 
every publishing house has at least two 
readers, and these read manuscripts in- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 83 

dependency of one another. The pub- 
lisher then makes his judgment from 
them both, or perhaps from a third read- 
ing by a specialist, if the manuscript 
seem good enough to warrant a third 
reading. 

The mistake of permitting a profitable 
manuscript to be rejected does not come, 
therefore, from inattention to the work 
of strangers, but from sheer fallibility of 
judgment. And the work of strangers 
is very carefully considered in every 
publishing house that I know anything 
about. Every publisher in these days is 
just as eager to get a new good writer on 
his list as any unknown writer is eager to 
g^t a publisher; and no manuscript 
above the grade of illiteracy is neglected. 

A " first reader" a man of all around 
general knowledge of books, and he 
ought to be a man full of hard common- 
sense, common-sense being worth more 
than technical literary knowledge the 
" first reader" examines the manuscript. 



84 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

If it be a shopworn piece of common- 
place work, obviously hopeless, he may 
not read it from preface to end, but he 
must say in his written report whether 
he has read it all. Whether he condemn 
it or approve it, it is examined or read by 
another reader. If both these condemn 
it as hopeless, the publisher declines it 
without more ado. 

The greater number of manuscripts 
that come to publishing houses are hope- 
less. Three-fourths of them, or more, 
are novels that have been written by 
lonely women or by men who have no 
successful occupation; and most of 
these are conscious or unconscious imi- 
tations of recent popular novels. It does 
not require very shrewd judgment to see 
that they are hopeless. But it does re- 
quire time. If they are above the grade 
of illiteracy somebody must read a hun- 
dred pages or more to make sure that 
the dulness of the early chapters may 
not be merely a beginner's way of find- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 85 

ing his gait. And many of these manu- 
scripts go from publishing house to pub- 
lishing house. There are, I should say, a 
thousand hopeless novels in manuscript 
at all times making this weary journey. 

Sometimes one comes back to the 
same publisher a second time, the author 
having perhaps not kept an accurate 
record of its itinerary. Sometimes it 
comes back a year later, somewhat 
changed. There is one novel-manuscript 
that has come to me four times within 
two years, every time in a somewhat 
different form, and twice with different 
titles obviously to fool the "careless" 
publisher. 

While very few mistakes are made or 
are likely to be made with these manu- 
scripts that two readers independently 
declare hopeless, the class next to these 
require a great deal of work and care. 
This class includes those books by un- 
known writers that are not bad. One 
reader will say that they are worth con- 



86 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

sidering. The next reader will say that 
they have some sort of merit. Then the 
publisher must go slowly. A third per- 
son must read them. If the publisher be 
an ideal publisher, he will read them 
himself. (The weakness of most Ameri- 
can publishing houses of this generation 
comes just here the publisher himself 
does not read many manuscripts.) 

In the best publishing houses (this, I 
know, is the habit of three) the reports 
on books of this class are all read at a 
meeting of the firm, or (better) at a 
meeting of the firm and of the heads of 
departments. At such a meeting the 
judgment of a sensible man who is at the 
head of the sales department of a pub- 
lishing house is very useful. He knows 
by his everyday work what sort of books 
the public is buying. Some of them are 
books that the "literary" world knows 
nothing about or has forgotten. 

And three or four or five men, by a 
little discussion, can reach a clearer and 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 87 

saner judgment about a book from the 
reports of three or four readers than the 
readers themselves can reach or than 
any one man or any two men who con- 
sider the reports could reach. There is 
no subject in the world about which a 
conference is likely to be more helpful. 
One man's judgment about the publish- 
ing quality of a book may easily be 
wrong. The judgment of two men may 
be wrong if they look at it from the same 
angle or with the same temperament. 
But the judgment of three, or four, or 
five men, if they have the facts before 
them and if they indulge in frank dis- 
cussion, is very seldom wrong. No book 
on which serious work has been done 
ought to be rejected or accepted without 
the benefit of the independent reports of 
two or three sensible persons who have 
carefully read it, and without the dis- 
cussions of these reports by three or four 
other persons of experience and judg- 
ment. And in at least three American 



88 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

publishing houses every manuscript of 
any value or promise runs a course of 
hopeful consideration such as this; for 
the publisher wants good new books, he 
wants good new writers; and he wants 
them badly. Half a dozen popular 
writers will build a publishing house. 
It is, therefore, doubtful whether any 
other business is so carefully conducted 
with reference to its sources of supply. 

In fact, all publishers make many 
more mistakes in accepting books than 
in declining them. They accept many 
books from new writers that they hope 
may possibly succeed, but in which they 
have not very strong faith. It is the 
book manuscripts of this class that 
cause the most work and the greatest 
trouble the class that may possibly 
succeed. A book of this class by a new 
writer who shows cleverness or some 
other good quality is often accepted in 
the hope that the author may do better 
with the next book. It is accepted as an 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 89 

encouragement and as a hope ; it chiefly 
is for this reason that so many books are 
published that are barely good enough 
to warrant publication. The publisher 
is trying to "develop" an author. 

Sometimes this method succeeds ; for 
it sometimes happens that a good writer 
writes a first book that is merely a prom- 
ise of later achievement. But this does 
not often happen. In most cases the sec- 
ond book is no better than the first or 
is worse. Then the publisher loses and 
the writer is seldom heard of again. The 
number of one-novel writers scattered 
over the land would surprise the world if 
it were known. There is no rule about 
literary production to which there are 
not an embarrassing number of excep- 
tions. But in most cases a successful 
writer starts with a successful book. 
The hope that the second book will be 
better is one of the rocks on which many 
publishing ventures wreck. 

But if the publishers put forth a num- 



ber of commonplace books (chiefly 
novels) from a false hope that they may 
thus develop good writers, they also do a 
service of the opposite kind. They save 
the long-suffering public from many 
worthless books. For if the public had 
thrust upon it all or half or a tenth of the 
books that are written, what a dull 
world we should have! 

When a book-manuscript has been re- 
jected, the delicate task comes next of 
informing the author. This task is 
seldom done as well as it ought to be. It 
is almost impossible for a publisher 
who receives and rejects manuscripts as 
a matter of business to put himself in 
the place of a writer who has spent 
lonely weeks in her work. To send a 
mere business note is almost an insult. 
Yet what more can the publisher write? 
He does not dare write hopefully. If he 
does he will give a degree of encourage- 
ment that is dishonest. Yet the author 
expects a long and explicit letter telling 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 91 

why the manuscript is unavailable. If 
she does not receive such a letter she 
jumps to the conclusion that her manu- 
script has not had fair consideration. 
Publishers' letters of rejection are the 
chief cause, I suspect, of the persistent 
notion that they are careless in the ex- 
amination of manuscripts. 

Every letter of declination ought to be 
written by a skilful man a diplomatist 
who can write an unpleasant truth with- 
out offence. Every such letter ought to 
be written with a pen. No general form 
ought to be used. Yet in only one of the 
publishing houses whose habits I know 
is this degree of care taken. The con- 
sideration of manuscript from strangers 
is careful and conscientious, but letters 
of rejection are often perfunctory. 

To sell a novel that has the mysterious 
quality of popularity in it is not difficult. 
Properly launched, it sells itself. To sell 
a novel that lacks the inherent quality of 
popularity that is almost impossible. 



92 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

Apparently it has sometimes been done, 
but nobody can be sure whether the 
result after all was due to the book or 
to the salesman. Every publisher has 
proved, over and over again, to his dis- 
gust, that he cannot make the people 
buy a novel that they do not want ; and 
when a novel appears (no better novel) 
that they do want, the novel-readers 
find it out by some free-masonry and 
would buy it if the publishers tried to 
prevent them. 

Nobody has discovered a rule to say 
nothing of a principle whereby the 
popularity of a novel by a new writer 
may be determined. If it be a really 
great, strong book, of course it is easy to 
understand that it will sell ; but whether 
it will sell 10,000 copies or 100,000 no- 
body knows. If it be a slap-dash dime- 
novel, full of action, it is easy to guess 
that it will sell; but whether 5,000 or 
500,000 nobody knows. Sometimes a 
book of the sheerest commonplace hap- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 93 

pens to hit the public mood at the happy 
angle and sells beyond all expectation. 
The truth is, every new novel by an un- 
known writer presents a problem peculiar 
to itself ; and in advertising it and offer- 
ing it for sale, every book's peculiar 
problem must be studied by itself. 

The whole question is a subtle social 
one. Who could have foretold popular- 
ity for "pigs in clover," rather than for 
some other silly puzzle; or for ping- 
pong; or for women's hats of a certain 
grotesque construction? The popular 
whim about novels is like the whims for 
these things. And a popular novel 
passes as quickly as any other fashion. 
The story has been many times told of 
the sudden falling off of the demand for 
"Trilby" so sudden that the publish- 
ers had a large number of copies left on 
hand which could not be sold at all ex- 
cept as waste paper. Every publisher is 
afraid to publish very large editions of 
any very popular novel; for they have 



94 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

all had an experience parallel to this ex- 
perience with "Trilby." 

But other kinds of books are less 
capricious than novels ; and the business 
of the publisher has been reduced more 
nearly to a science in dealing with books 
of information. Several publishers, for 
example, have series of little books 
made of selections from English and 
American classics. Many of them have 
sold well ; but some of them have sold by 
the million and others just as good and 
just as attractive have stopped at the 
ten-thousand limit or at a lower limit. 
The difference is with the skill with 
which they were put on the market. 
Sometimes an ingenious "scheme" will 
sell information books in great numbers ; 
and it often happens that the worst of 
three or four books on the same subject 
and published for the same price, be- 
comes far better known than the other 
better books. 

As a theoretical proposition it seems 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 95 

plain that the publisher who will spend 
the most money in newspaper advertis- 
ing will sell the most books. Authors 
not infrequently take up this notion. 
Sometimes it is true; for sometimes 
newspaper advertising will cause a great 
demand for a book. But this is not true 
with every book. And most recent pub- 
lishing failures have been due in a 
great measure, at least to prodigal ad- 
vertising or, perhaps, to misdirected 
advertising. ' 

Every book is a problem unto itself. 
The wise publisher so regards it from the' 
beginning; and he makes his plans for 
every book to suit its peculiar case and 
not another. All the long road from 
author to reader, the book any book 
presents a series of interesting, original 
problems. Many of them are very fas- 
cinating problems. They call for im- 
agination, fertility, ingenuity. The 
reason why few authors or authors' 
societies or other persons who have not 



g6 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

been definitely trained to publishing 
fail, is that they are too likely to regard 
publishing as a mere routine business a 
business of manufacturing a certain pro- 
duct and then of offering it for sale. 
They forget that every book and even 
every edition of every book presents a 
problem that was never presented be- 
fore since the world was made. And 
when its sympathetic ingenuity and in- 
ventiveness fail, a publishing house be- 
gins to become a mere business and the 
drying-up period is not far off. 

But no publishing house fails because 
it does not examine manuscripts care- 
fully. There is no other business that I 
know of that is done more seriously ; and 
the mistakes made are fewer than the 
public thinks. They are mistakes of 
judgment and not of carelessness. 



The Printer Who Issues Books at 
the Author's Expense 



CHAPTER VI 

THE PRINTER WHO ISSUES BOOKS 
AT THE AUTHOR'S EXPENSE 

A Heartless Pirate Who Preys Upon the Un- 
sophisticated and Ambitious Writer The Con- 
tract in Which This Sort of "Publisher" Can- 
not Lose The Inevitable Disappointment 
How the Publication by Even a Responsible 
House of a Book That Sells Poorly Injures the 
House. 

An innocent and ambitious good" 
woman sent to me last year a form of 
contract that a printer who pretended 
to be a publisher had sent her to 
sign for the publication of a novel. In 
its unessential clauses it was like the 
usual publisher's contract; but it re- 
quired the author to pay in advance a 
fixed sum for the plates and for the 
manufacture of one thousand copies; 

99 



ioo A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

and this sum was just about twice what 
they should cost him. Then he was to 
pay her not the usual ten or even fifteen 
per cent, royalty, but fifty per cent, on 
all copies sold as well he might; and, 
if at the end of a year the book had 
ceased to sell, she was bound to buy the 
plates from him at half cost. The 
meaning of all this translated into 
figures, is this: The plates would cost 
him $250, for he does cheap work; a 
thousand copies of the book would cost 
him $200, for he makes cheap books; 
total, $450. She would pay him in ad- 
vance $900. He has a profit so far of 
$450. He does not expect to sell any 
of the books. Her friends would buy 
perhaps as many as two hundred copies. 
They would not be on sale at the book- 
stores except in her own town. At 
the end of the year she would pay him 
again for the plates half what he charged 
her at first which is just what they 
cost him. By this time she would have 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 101 

paid just three times their cost to him. 
His outlay in the whole transaction 
would be : 

For plates $250 

For 1000 copies 200 

$450 

His income would be: Her prepayment.. 900 
Her purchase of the plates a year later. . 250 

1150 

His profit $700 

He would not have even to make any 
outlay of capital. She supplies the cap- 
ital and he makes his $700 profit by 
writing her a few letters. If any of the 
books were sold he would receive also 
half what they brought. She would 
have spent $1150, less what she re- 
ceived for the few copies that were sold. 
Her book would not have been pub- 
lished only printed at an excessive 
cost. 

There are several "publishers" who 
seem to do a prosperous brief business 
of this kind by preying upon inexpe- 



102 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

rienced and disappointed authors. It 
is only by accident they ever get a book 
that sells; and they hardly pretend to 
put books on the market, for of course 
the booksellers will not buy them. A 
really good book would, therefore, in 
their hands be buried. The public 
would never find it out. They print a 
large number of the novels that the real 
publishers decline. 

The long list of books chiefly novels 
that these pseudo-publishers put out 
tells a sad tale of misdirected energy 
and of disappointed hopes. A man 
oftener it is a woman conceives the 
notion of writing a novel. She works 
alone. She shuts herself off from life 
about her. Any human being who 
spends months at a self-imposed secret 
task becomes profoundly, even abnor- 
mally interested in it. The story grows 
or flows; for the author becomes 
more fluent as she goes on. She is likely 
to accept all the stories of extraordinary 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 103 

successes that she reads in the literary 
journals as if they were common suc- 
cesses. She goes on working by herself 
with no corrective companionship. At 
last she sends it to a real publisher and 
gets a disappointing decision. She 
imagines a thousand reasons why she is 
not appreciated. She sends it to an- 
other, and so on. The story of the 
wanderings of " David Harum" in man- 
uscript has given courage to thousands 
of worthless novels a courage to travel 
to the last ditch, and the last ditch is the 
pseudo-publisher. "Yes," he writes, 
"it is an unusual story;" and he will 
be greatly honored to publish it, and 
sends one of his remarkable contracts. 

To get the book published by any- 
body will bring her recognition, she 
thinks. The public will be kinder than 
the publishers. She takes the risk 
sometimes goes into debt to do so. That 
is the end of the book, and in most cases 
the end of the author's career. The 



104 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

work begun in loneliness has ended in 
oblivion wasted days, wasted dollars, 
wasted hopes. 

Yet what is an author to do who be- 
lieves in his own work when it is refused 
by the regular publisher? Publish it 
himself or let it remain in manuscript. 
Never permit it to be brought out by a 
publisher to whom any suspicion at- 
taches. 

There is not much danger (I do not 
believe there is any danger) that a man- 
uscript of any value whatever will under 
present conditions fail to find a legiti- 
mate purchaser. But one way out of 
the difficulty that authors often seek is 
to propose to a legitimate publisher to 
publish his book at the writer's ex- 
pense; and it is not apparent to the 
layman why the publisher cannot afford 
to make such arrangements. "If the 
author pays the bill," he says, " the pub- 
lisher will surely lose nothing. ' ' But the 
publisher does lose, and loses heavily, 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 105 

every time he publishes a book that is 
not successful in the market. A pub- 
lisher cannot afford to accept a book 
that will not itself earn a profit. If the 
author pay all the cost and a good 
profit besides, even this does not change 
the case; for unsalable books clog the 
market and stop the wheels of the pub- 
lisher's whole trade. He soon begins to 
lose influence and standing in the book 
trade. The jobbers buy -new books 
from him in smaller quantities. The 
booksellers become suspicious of his 
judgment. 

East year, to give a true instance, a 
publisher put out four new novels by 
four new writers. His salesmen and his 
advertising man announced them as 
good books. They made enthusiastic 
estimates of them. The book dealers 
ordered liberally. Three out of the 
four failed to make any appreciable 
success. The dealers had many copies 
of them left on hand. This year, when 



io6 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

the same publisher brought out two 
more new novels by two more new 
writers, his salesmen met with incre- 
dulity and indifference. The booksellers 
said to them with a sad smile, "We'll 
swap copies of your last year's novels 
for these." 

Now it so happens that both of these 
new books of this year are good and 
popular. A demand for them was made 
as soon as the reviews appeared and 
people began to read them. But the 
booksellers were ill supplied. They 
would order only a few copies at a time 
or none. Thus the good books of this 
year suffered because the publisher's 
dull books of last year failed to bring 
profit or satisfaction to anybody. They 
stood in the way of this year's better 
books. 

While, therefore, no legitimate pub- 
lisher wishes to reduce his business to a 
mere commercial basis, and while he is 
eager to maintain the dignity of his pro- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 107 

fession must maintain it in fact and 
do as high service as possible to the 
literary production of his time; yet he 
can not load down his list with many 
books that have not a good commercial 
reason for existence. 

The plausible proposition which is so 
often made in these days of universal 
authorship to publish books at the 
author's expense is for these reasons 
not a sound proposition. If the book 
succeeds there is no reason why the 
author should make the investment. 
If it fail, the publisher loses, even though 
the author settle the bill; and he loses 
heavily. 

A writer who asks a publisher to 
bring out a book that has no commer- 
cial reason for existence is asking him 
to imitate the "fake" publisher. The 
"fake" publisher could not make a liv- 
ing (since he has no character and can- 
not sell books) except by cash payments 
from his authors. As soon as the pub- 



io8 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

lisher begins to receive cash payments 
from his authors (be the basis ever so 
legitimate) he begins to clog up the out- 
lets for his product. He has taken the 
first step towards "fake" publishing. 

In a word, commercially unprofitable 
books may be printed, but they cannot 
be published without ruining the ma- 
chinery that they are run through. He 
is the best publisher who has the largest 
proportion of good books on his list 
(whether his list be long or short) that 
are at the same time alive in the 
market. 

There are let it be said as an excep- 
tion a few classes of books that every 
publisher wishes to have on his list in 
spite of the fact that they cannot be 
made profitable, such as works of great 
scholarship or monumental works that 
have a lasting value. It is legitimate 
that the writers or the societies or or- 
ganizations under whose directions such 
books were written should pay or share 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 109 

the cost of their manufacture. But few 
such works yield a profit at last to either 
publisher or author. And they are not 
made to clog the book market. They 
are sold only to special classes of readers. 

A book is a commodity. Yet the mo- 
ment it is treated as a mere commodity 
it takes severe revenge on its author and 
on its publisher. 

These pseudo-publishers sometimes 
solicit manuscripts from ignorant writ- 
ers. They have veiled advertisements 
in the literary journals. Ignorance and 
ambition is a susceptible combination. ,. 
Several years ago one of these plausible 
swindlers bribed a reader in one of the 
larger publishing houses to report to 
him the names of all the writers whose 
novels were declined there. The fakir 
then plied them with circulars and 
letters. 

While I have been writing about pub- 
lishing swindles I have been reminded 
of the accusation brought several years 



no A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

ago against publishers especially Eng- 
lish publishers that the temptation to 
fraud was too strong to be resisted by 
any but the most upright and successful 
men. An author gives his book to his 
publisher. Twice a year the publisher 
makes a report pays royalties on the 
number of books that he has reported as 
sold. There is no way whereby the 
author can verify the publisher's re- 
ports. He has to take his word for it. 
Even if the author or someone who 
acted for him were to see the publisher's 
books, he could learn nothing, for the 
publisher's bookkeeping is a very com- 
plicated thing; and reports of book 
sales could easily be "doctored." 

The chance for fraud does exist. But 
the first wish of every normal man in the 
business, even if he lacks vigorous hon- 
esty, is to make his reports of sales to 
his author as large as possible. This 
wish is too strong to be overcome by 
anything less than the most hopeless 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION in 

moral depravity. A publisher who 
should commit the crime of making 
false reports to his authors would be a 
monstrosity. Yet the contention that 
Sir Walter Besant made in England for 
so many years, that the publishing bus- 
iness was conducted without such checks 
and verifications as are applied to other 
business transactions was true; and I, 
for one, see no practical remedy for it. 

Moral: Select your publisher with 
care; make sure that he is honest (by 
far most of us are) ; then trust him. 
But steer clear of all "fake" publishers, 
and "agents." 



The Advertising of Books Still 
Experimental 



CHAPTER VII 

THE ADVERTISING OF BOOKS STILL 

EXPERIMENTAL 

Publishers Are Uncertain as to the Amount of 
Sales Made in That Way How the Book Busi- 
ness Differs from the Shoe Trade, for Example 
The Problem of How to Get the Books Be- 
fore the People Is at the Root of All Other 
Book Trade Questions Why the Book Can- 
vasser Is Still Necessary A Vast Field Wait- 
ing for Development. 

About the advertising of books, no- 
body knows anything. The most that 
can be said is that some publishers are 
making very interesting experiments. 
But nobody has yet worked out a single 
general principle that is of great value. 
The publishers themselves frankly con- 
fess that they do not know how to ad- 
vertise books except a few publishers 
who have had little experience. 

"5 



n6 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

t 

*mf 

The fundamental difficulty of course 
is that hardly any two books present the 
same problem. Find a successful ad- 
vertising plan for one book it will not 
be a good plan for another. This fun- 
damental difficulty marks the difference, 
for instance, between books and shoes. 
When a shoe merchant finds out by ex- 
periment how to describe his shoes and 
in what periodicals to print his descrip- 
tion, his problem is solved. Recently 
several publishers discovered a success- 
ful way to advertise a novel. They 
tried the same plan with another novel 
and another. But it's hit or miss. I, 
for one, would give much to know how 
often it has been "miss." 

The old-fashioned way was to insert 
a brief, simple, dignified announcement 
of every book, as is still done in The 
Spectator, of London, for example. 
Good; but such an announcement 
doesn't go far. A very few thousand 
persons see it. They wait until 'the 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 117 

books are reviewed or till some friend 
or authority speaks about them. For 
this perfectly good reason some publish- 
ers do not insert many advertisements 
in those publications that go only to the 
literary class they are to a degree su- 
perfluous. Those that are inserted are 
inserted to give the publishers and the 
books a certain "standing," and to 
keep pleasant the relations between the 
publishers and these journals. 

Then come, of course, the monthly 
popular magazines. They reach a very 
much wider class of readers, and to ad- 
vertise books in them is a logical pro- 
cedure. But their advertising rates are 
almost prohibitory. The margin of 
profit on books is very small. There 
is not money enough in the business to 
warrant extensive and expensive maga- 
zine advertising. The result is the pub- 
lishers put their announcements of per- 
haps a dozen new books on a single ad- 
vertising page of the magazines, and 



n8 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

they cannot, in this restricted space, 
say enough about any particular book 
to make the advertisement effective. 

Then there are the daily papers. One 
or two of the best dailies in every large 
city are used by the publishers for an- 
nouncements of new books. They can- 
not afford more except in the case of 
those novels which may reach enormous 
editions. Given a novel that will sell 
100,000 copies or more, and you have 
enough possible profit to warrant a 
good deal of advertising. But during 
this calendar year only two novels (per- 
haps three) have new editions of more 
than 100,000 copies. What is a pub- 
lisher to do, then, who has a novel that 
will sell 10,000 copies, or 20,000 copies 
and no more? Can he make it sell 
50,000 or 100,000 by spending a large 
sum in advertising it? Perhaps, once 
in ten times, or once in twenty times; 
but not oftener. 

Five or six publishing houses spend 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 119 

more than $50,000 a year, each, in ad- 
vertising. Two spend a good deal more 
than this sum; and one is reported as 
saying that he spends $250,000. These 
are not large sums when compared with 
the sums spent for advertising other 
wares. But an advertisement of a shoe 
published to-day will help to sell that 
shoe next year. The shoemaker gets a 
cumulative effect. But your novel ad- 
vertised to-day will be dead next year. 
You get no cumulative effect. When 
I say, therefore, that no publisher has 
mastered the art of advertising books, 
I tell the literal truth. They all run 
against a dead wall; and they will all 
tell you so in frank moments. 

The study of the problem of adver- 
tising books takes one far afield. What 
quality in a book makes it popular any- 
how? Even if you are wise enough to 
know that (and you are very wise if you 
do know that) the question arises 
whether advertising is necessary. There 



120 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

have been as many popular books sold 
in large editions without advertising as 
with it. If your book is really popular 
it may sell anyhow. I could make a 
long list of such books, and a still longer 
list of books that extensive advertising 
did not sell books which seemed to 
their publishers to have the quality of 
great popula&ty. 

The question carries us further back 
still. Let us take the analogy of the 
shoemaker again. He has shoe stores 
within reach of the whole population. 
There is not a village in the land where 
there is not a store in which shoes are 
sold. The manufacturers' salesmen find 
this distributing machinery ready to 
their hands. If a man in Arkansas or 
in Montana or in Florida wants a pair of 
shoes, he is within reach of a place where 
he may buy them. Not so with books. 
There are few bookstores. Two or 
three per cent, of the population (per- 
haps less) live within convenient reach 



of bookshops. True, a book may be 
ordered by mail. But so may a pair of 
shoes. But this is not a good substitute 
for a store, where a man may see the 
book. The mail-order business will 
always be secondary to direct sales. 
But, since bookstores are so few, the 
book-distributing machinery is wholly 
inadequate. The publisher has no ef- 
fective way yet to reach his normal pub- 
lic with his wares. 

There is nobody to blame, perhaps. 
Surely, it would not be a profitable 
undertaking for any man or woman to 
buy a stock of books and to open a store 
in a small town. What is the remedy, 
then? 

The simple truth is, here is one of the 
problems of distribution that have not 
yet been solved. There are throughout 
the land another one hundred thousand 
persons who would buy any novel of 
which one hundred thousand have been 
sold, if they could see the book and hear 



122 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

about it if it were intelligently kept 
for sale where they would see it. This 
is a self-evident proposition. But no- 
body has yet found a way thus to distrib- 
ute a book. And (this is the point) until 
better distributing machinery is organ- 
ized, it will not pay publishers to adver- 
tise with as prodigal a hand as shoe- 
makers and soapmakers use in making 
their wares known. 

It is this lack of proper distributing 
machinery that has made possible the 
career of the book-agent. There are no 
shoe peddlers. Almost all the publish- 
ing houses all the important houses 
employ book peddlers. The busines is 
generally-regarded as a nuisance, to say 
the most for it. But, from the publish- 
er's point of view, it is a necessity. And 
this is the crude way whereby it is 
sought to remedy the radical deficiency 
of proper distributing machinery. Of 
course, the book-agent method has its 
obvious disadvantages. It is not a dig- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 123 

nified occupation, as most agents prac- 
tise it. The most dignified members of 
the community, therefore, do not take 
it up. In every case it is not even the 
trustworthy members of the community 
that take it up. Again, the agent must 
be paid; and this is a very costly 
method (to the purchaser) of buying 
books. The purchaser pays half his 
money for the books ; the other half for 
being persuaded to buy them. 

And (to take a broad, economic view 
of the subject) the book peddler surely 
cannot be considered the final solution 
of the problem of a proper distribution 
of books. At some time in the future, 
when the country is three or four times 
as densely settled as it now is, there will 
be book stores in all towns. There may 
still be need for the persuasiveness of 
the agent, for some of the most success- 
ful of them now do their best work in 
cities within sight of good book shops. 
But the point is, few book-agents sell 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 



new books, and few of them sell single 
books: they usually sell books in sets. 
The problem, therefore, of the proper 
distribution of the four or five really 
good books that my publishing house 
has put out this fall still remains un- 
solved and, though I advertised them 
in all magazines and newspapers, I 
should not effectively reach the atten- 
tion of one-fifth or one-tenth of the pos- 
sible buyers of them. I should simply 
spend in advertising the profit that I 
may make on the copies that I sell with 
a reasonable publicity through the regu- 
lar channels. I do insert advertisements 
of them for three or four reasons with 
the hope of helping their sales ; to keep 
the public informed of the activity of our 
publishing house; to please the press; 
and to please the authors of the books. 
But I know very well that I am working 
(as every publisher is working) in a busi- 
ness that has not yet been developed, 
that is behind the economic organization 



of other kinds of manufacturing and sell- 
ing, that awaits proper organization. 

Figure it out yourself. Here is a 
book of which eighty thousand copies 
have been sold through "the trade;" 
that is, through the book stores. Our 
salesmen have visited every important 
bookseller from Portland, Me., to Port- 
land, Ore., and from Duluth to New 
Orleans. We have spent quite a hand- 
some sum in advertising it. Four-fifths 
of these eighty thousand copies were 
sold in a few months after its publica- 
tion. The booksellers said that they 
could sell many more if we would ad- 
vertise it more. We did so. By this 
time our salesmen were making another 
trip. No, they would not buy more, 
thank you ; it is a little slow now. The 
second effort at advertising did not 
cause it to " move" in the market. The 
demand is slow yet. In other words, 
the demand for it that could be supplied 
by the existing book stores was practi- 



126 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

cally exhausted. Our second adver- 
tising effort was a waste of money. We 
have frankly to confess that we do not 
know how to sell more copies of this 
book until the time comes when it may 
be put into a "set" and sold by book 
agents. This is the same as to say that, 
the few existing book stores utilized, 
there is no organized machinery for find- 
ing more buyers except the book agent. 

Yet it is obvious that a wholesome 
book (as this is) which eighty thousand 
persons have bought would please eighty 
thousand other persons of like minds 
and taste if we had any way to find these 
second eighty thousand persons. They 
exist, of course. But they live out of 
easy reach of the book stores. The 
book agents will find them several years 
hence. 

I have (I think) shown why there can 
never be a publishers' trust, or "com- 
bine," because the relation of the pub- 
lisher and the author is a personal rela- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 127 

tion as intimate and personal as the rela- 
tion of a physician to his patient or of a 
lawyer and his client. But, after a book 
has been sold and has become a com- 
modity, the problem is a different one. 
The booksellers have perceived this; 
and they have made ineffective efforts 
to "combine/* They have failed be- 
cause they have not made plans to widen 
the existing market. An organization 
of those that exist is not enough. The 
real problem is to extend their area, to 
find book-buyers whom they do not now 
reach. 

Perhaps all this is very dull this 
trade talk. But a publisher who is 
worthy of his calling regards himself as 
an educator of the public; and he has 
trade reasons and higher reasons as well 
for wishing to reach as many buyers of 
his good books as he possibly can. He 
knows (and you know, if you know the 
American people) that the masses even 
of intelligent folk have yet hardly fairly 



128 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

begun to buy books. Go where you 
will among the people and you will find 
few books pitifully few. We are just 
coming into a period when book-buying 
is even beginning to become general. 
The publishers of a generation hence will 
sell perhaps ten times as many good 
books as are sold now surely, if they 
find in their day distributing machinery 
even half adequate. 



The Story of a Book from Author 
to Reader 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE STORY OF A BOOK FROM AUTHOR 
TO READER 

The Divers Problems Which Constantly Arise 
Every Step of the Way Beset with Expense, So 
That the Publisher Is Amazed When He Finds 
a Surplus Why Books of Large Sale Are Hard 
to Get The Publisher as Anxious as the Public 
to Print Better Books. 

The wonder is (and in my mind it 
grows every year) how the publishers of 
books make enough money to keep their 
shops going. When I look at my own 
ledgers (ledger, by the way, is become a 
mere literary word, for we now all keep 
accounts on cards and not in books) 
whenever I look at my own cards and 
see a profit, I am astonished as much as 
I am gratified. Every other publisher in 
131 



132 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

America, if he have a normal and simple 
mind such as fits the calling, has the 
same emotion. Let me say, lest I ap- 
pear " simple " in another sense, that our 
cards have, miraculously enough, gen- 
erally shown very satisfactory profits, 
but the astonishment never becomes 
less. 

See what a long series of processes, or 
adventures, if you will, a book must go 
through between the writer and the 
reader; every step costs money; and 
the utmost possible profit is small. Sup- 
pose it be a novel. "Book" means 
"novel" these days in "literary" circles 
and journals. Heaven bless our shallow 
gabble called ' ' reviews . " A novel comes 
to the publisher in fairly good English. 
The English doubtless is the author's, 
but the punctuation and capitals are the 
"typewriter-lady's" own. It must be 
read by one person ; and, if that person's 
report have a ray of hope, it must be 
read by another; perhaps by a third. 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 133 

These "readers" cost money alas! too 
little money. They are generally liter- 
ary persons who have failed, and there is 
something pathetic about their occupa- 
tion. Then, after two or three readers 
have reported on it, I have to read it 
in our particular shop, in any shop, 
somebody "higher up" must read it 
especially if it come from a new writer. 
Then we have to correspond with the 
author or have interviews with h er. 
All this takes time, and the cost of this 
service rolls up. Somebody must next 
go over the manuscript to prepare it for 
the printer to make sure that the 
heroine's name is spelt the same way all 
through and so forth and so forth. With 
the processes of manufacture I need not 
weary you. Only I must say that a bad 
manuscript can be put into legible type, 
and that type cast into solid metal 
blocks ready for the press with a rapid- 
ity and cheapness that rank among the 
mechanical wonders of the world. 



^ 134 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

By this time the artist has appeared, 
if the novel is to be illustrated. Book 
salesmen will tell you that pictures help 
to sell novels, and they ought to know. 
But I venture to say that you haven't 
seen three new novels in ten years whose 
illustrations conveyed anything but con- 
fusion to your mind. The conventional 
illustration of the conventional novel 
marks the lowest degradation of the 
present-day^publisher. We confess by 
these things that we are without charac- 
ter or convfction. But the artist has 
the benefit of the commercial doubt on 
his $ide. He has also the vanity of the 
author. And he gets his fee 200, 300 
or 500 god dollars or more and the 
publisher pays the bill. Another artist 
makes a design for the cover. 

Paper, printing, binding all these 
are commonplaces, worthy of mention 
here only because they roll up the cost. 
But there are other steps in the book's 
journey that the public knows less 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 135 

about. For instance, as soon as the first 
chapter has been put into type and a 
cover made, " dummies " of the book are 
got ready. A " dummy" of a book is a 
sort of model, or sample, of it. The 
cover is the cover that will appear on the 
finished novel ; the titlepage is the novel's 
titlepage ; and the first chapter is as it 
will be when the bpok is published. 
But the rest is blank paper. This 
"dummy" shows the physical size and 
appearance of the book. 

The travelling salesmen take these 
dummies and begin their work. They go 
to all the jobbers and book dealers, ex- 
plaining to them the charming qualities 
of this newly discovered novelist, and* 
taking orders for the books. By the time 
they come home and their advance 
orders are added up, the book is ready 
to go to press ; and the publisher knows 
what his " first sale " will be. Meantime 
(not to lose the thread of my story) all 
this travelling and soliciting of orders 



136 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

have cost a good deal of money. The 
public has not yet seen a copy of the 
book nor even so much as heard of it nor 
of the "talented young author." 

But now the machinery for publicity 
is put in action. Sly little literary notes 
about the book and the author begin to 
appear in the newspapers. These, too, 
have come from the publisher. From 
whom else, pray, could they come? But 
they mean that the publisher has to 
maintain a literary bureau. The man 
who writes these news notes and the ad- 
vertisements of the book and other 
things about it is a man of skill, if he do 
his work well; and he, too, costs the 
publisher a good salary. When he be- 
gins to put forth advertising how much 
shall he spend on this new novel by an 
unknown writer? How much shall you 
risk at Monte Carlo? Your upright man 
will risk nothing at Monte Carlo. I have 
sometimes thought that your upright 
publisher, if there be one, would risk 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 137 

nothing in advertising a new book by an 
unknown writer, until the book began it- 
self to show some vitality in the market. 

But to go back as soon as the book 
is ready, review copies, of course, are 
sent to the newspapers and the literary 
journals (to appear a little later in the 
second-hand book-shops for sale at re- 
duced prices.) All this activity requires 
clerks, typewriters, bookkeepers, post- 
age-money a large office, in fact. 
There are many posters, circulars 
there is as much machinery required to 
sell a book as to sell a piano or an auto- 
mobile. 

From the starting-point, where the 
book was an ill-written manuscript, to 
the delivery of it to the bookseller, the 
publisher has less than 50 cents a copy to 
pay for this whole journey and to save 
something for profit if he can. There- 
fore I say that publishers who do suc- 
ceed are among the most astute man- 
agers of industry. 



138 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

Lest I seem to " boast rather than to 
confess," I come back to the starting- 
point, which was this that the pub- 
lishers' calling is not a very profitable 
one ; not a profitable one at all except in 
fair weather and with a good skipper. 

The truth is, publishing is too impor- 
tant a profession and our publishing 
houses are too important as institutions 
to be at the mercy of present conditions. 
The making of schoolbooks and the 
vending of standard old books in sets, 
which are useful vocations, but are not 
publishing proper, are now done best by 
firms and companies that do nothing 
else. Hence publishing proper the 
bringing out of new books must find a 
safer basis than the present conventional 
profit. It will find this safer basis in two 
ways. 

The first and obvious way is to secure 
books that have an enormous popular- 
ity. This is the effort of nearly all the 
publishing houses to-day. If a novel 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 139 

reach an edition of 100,000 copies, there 
is a good profit in it as matters now 
stand. And a novel, or other book, that 
will be bought by 100,000 persons ought 
not to be sold for more than such books 
now fetch. But there are not enough 
such books to go around ; and the least 
worthy publishing house is as likely to 
secure them as the most worthy. A per- 
manent institution, therefore, cannot be 
built on these or on the hope of them. 
They are the accidents of the calling. 

The other way to maintain a worthy 
publishing institution is to publish 
worthy books, to manufacture them 
well, to do every piece of work that is 
done on them or that is done for them in 
the most conscientious way to keep 
bookmaking as a fine art, to keep book- 
selling a dignified profession, to keep the 
selection of books to publish on the high 
level of scholarly judgment. This done, 
a publisher may set his prices higher 
must set his prices higher, for he does a 



140 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

higher and more costly service to soci- 
ety. Excellent and worthy of all praise 
as is some of the publishing work of this 
sort that is now done, a beginning has 
hardly yet been made. There is a de- 
mand, or a dormant demand can be 
awakened, for books that have merit (I 
mean new books as well as old) of better 
manufacture than we now often see. 
They must be sold for higher prices, of 
course. 

This is the same as to say that just as 
a three-dollar shoe is made for most feet 
that tread this weary continent, but a 
five-dollar shoe is made for an increasing 
number of feet that prefer ease to econ- 
omy, so we are becoming rich enough 
and wise enough to pay two dollars, or 
three dollars, or five dollars for a good 
new book that shall have large and beau- 
tiful type, good paper, good margins, 
good binding shall be a work of art in 
its manufacture as well as in the quality 
of its contents. The public gets its good 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 141 

books too cheap ; and the reason is plain. 

It was only the other day that the 
publishers discovered the possibility of 
securing book after book that would run 
into large editions. A novel-reading 
democracy a public-school democracy 
is a new thing. It is an impressive 
thing. It made new and big markets, 
and we all rushed after it. Cheapness 
and great editions became the rage. 
Writers wrote for the million; publish- 
ers published for the million. Cheap 
books became the fashion. All very 
well this widespread effort, this uni- 
versal reading. But it has not radically 
changed human nature nor even the 
permanent foundations of the profes- 
sion of publishing. We shall come back 
to higher and better work some of us 
will, at least. 

Bring the subject home to yourself. 
What do you want for your book 
money? ' Not the latest "big seller." 
You may buy that to entertain you on a 



142 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

railway journey. But if you bring it 
home at all, you send it away at Christ- 
mas to some country library. What you 
want in your own library for your book- 
money are good books, made at least as 
well as the furniture in the room; and 
you want the new books of permanent 
value. You are sometimes disgusted 
when you look over the publishers' cata- 
logues to find so few books of this kind. 
Your publishers, too, are becoming 
weary of having such catalogues ; and as 
soon as we rediscover the old truth that 
there is a permanent demand for just 
the kind of books that you want, we 
shall turn to a more generous encourage- 
ment of them. Men who might do better 
work will then cease trying to write 
"best sellers." But you musjt pay the 
price. Since you have become accus- 
tomed to buy new books at $1.50 a vol- 
ume, you are somewhat reluctant to pay 
$2 or $4 for a new book. You must 
break yourself of that habit. In a word, 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 143 

you must become at least as generous to 
your publisher as you are to your shoe- 
maker; and then the change will take 
place. 

By a similar course of reasoning (and 
it is sound) you may discover that you 
are yourself to blame for what our writ- 
ers write and our publishers publish in 
a measure at least; and, whenever you 
want better books, better books will be 
ready for you. For the publisher and 
even the author are but human after all ; 
and in the mood that has possessed us 
all for a decade or two since presses, 
and paper became so cheap we have 
perhaps worshipped mere numbers. I 
have published some books only because 
thousands and thousands of persons 
would read them. You have read them 
simply because thousands of other peo- 
ple were reading them and for no better 
reason. Perhaps our sins have not been 
heinous. But, if you are so stubbornly 
virtuous as to cry shame at me, I prom- 



144 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

ise you this: I will reform on the day 
that you yourself reform ; but you must 
first signify repentance. For you the 
public are after all our masters. 



The Present Limits of the Book 
Market 



CHAPTER IX 

THE PRESENT LIMITS OF THE BOOK 
MARKET 

In Spite of the Many Books Issued and the Many 
"Large Sellers" the People Are Very Poorly 
Equipped with Good Books Circulating Libra- 
ries and the Sale of Books Many Neglected 
Subjects on Which Successful Books Could be 
Written The Lack of Good Writers the Main 
Source of Poor Sale of Books. 

How large the book market is, nobody 
knows. Still less does anybody know 
how large it may become, say, in another 
decade of our present prosperity and 
spread of intelligence. Beyond any 
doubt more books are bought in the 
United States than in any other coun- 
try. Yet it is a constant surprise to dis- 
cover how ill supplied the mass of the 
people are with good books. But the 
147 



148 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

enormous increase of the market in re- 
cent years gives hope of a still greater in- 
crease to come. The number of books 
published every year in the United 
States and in the United Kingdom is 
about the same, but more American 
than English books run to large editions. 
Leaving out fiction, which is the spec- 
tacular and sensational part of publish- 
ing, books of reference, of standard 
literature, of history, of applied science 
and even of poetry are sold in constantly 
increasing quantities. The public hears 
little of these because the literary jour- 
nals pay little attention to them. There 
is, for instance, one publisher of sub- 
scription books who now adds few books 
to his list of. which he does not expect to 
sell 100,000 copies. He has agents in 
every part of the United States, and 
they probably sell more books in a year 
than all the publishing houses in the 
United States put together sold thirty 
years ago excluding textbooks, of 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 149 

course. Last year a literary man went 
to a remote railway station, 1,000 miles 
from Boston or New York, to shoot 
quail. One day he saw men unloading 
boxes of books from a freight car on the 
side track. The wonder was that there 
should be even a freight car in that cor- 
ner of the woods; and that the freight 
car should be filled with books was sim- 
ply incredible. But there were wagon 
loads of Thackerays, of Dickenses, of 
Eliots, and even of sets of the poets, 
fairly well-printed, fairly well-bound 
volumes which had been sold to the 
country folk for miles around. Perhaps 
there has been more money spent for 
encyclopaedias and dictionaries than . 
Noah Webster could compute, these last 
ten years. The book market, therefore, 
is very much bigger than persons who 
live outside the book selling world are 
likely to think. 

Still, relatively it is small. The largest 
retail book store in the country is a de- 



150 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

partment store in New York or Philadel- 
phia; but the book department is not 
considered one of the important parts of 
the store. The much-abused depart- 
ment store, by the way, has done much 
to bring a new class of persons to acquire 
the book-buying habit. It has made 
books common merchandise for the first 
time. Since the "Century Dictionary," 
to take a definite example, was thus 
made common merchandise, the sets of 
it that have been sold are incomparably 
more than were ever sold in any other 
way. Yet how small the book market 
yet is, is shown by this fact that a novel 
of which one hundred thousand copies 
are sold reaches only one person in every 
eight thousand of the population. 

Do circulating libraries lessen book 
sales? Yes, I dare say they do. But you 
will find that the publishers do not com- 
plain of them. They are disposed to ac- 
cept the comforting doctrine that every- 
thing which encourages the reading of 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 151 

books in the end helps the sale of them. 
In the end yes. But for the moment 
probably no. 

One man will tell you that he used 
regularly to buy a novel a week some-- 1 
times two novels. He was a pretty good 
customer of the publishers ; for fifty-two 
novels a year is about as many as the 
most avaricious publisher could reason- 
ably expect one man to buy. But now 
he says he does not buy three a year. A 
circulating library will for $5 bring him 
all he wants. The publishers have, 
therefore, lost him as a good customer. 
On the other hand it is a working theory 
that every subscriber to a circulating 
library who reads a novel and talks 
about it at the woman's club may induce 
somebody to buy a copy who otherwise 
would never have heard of it. At any 
rate, the total number of novels, or of 
books of other sorts, now sold is not less 
than the number that was sold before 
the libraries found subscribers. The 



152 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

discussion is, after all, a vain one. The 
publisher and the author must do the 
best they can by the help of the libraries 
or in spite of them. 

Yet I am sure that the great widening 
of the market for which we are all look- 
ing will be found, when it is found, not 
by any special machinery or mechanical 
device; but the person who will really 
find it or make it will be a great 
writer. Whenever books are written 
that are interesting enough to compel 
the attention of the whole people, the 
poorest publishing house can sell them. 
The secret of success, after all, is the 
secret of writing books that touch 
masses of men deeply and directly. We 
have much to learn from the careers of 
such books as "Progress and Poverty" 
and "Looking Backward." They 
reached their great sale not by the inge- 
nuity of their publishers, nor by their 
literary merit, but only because they 
carried messages to many minds. How- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 153 

ever delusive these messages may be, 
they were sincere. The truth is that 
the publisher (exalt him as I am trying 
my best to do) is, after all, only a piece 
of machinery. The real force that 
makes itself felt in the world that has to 
do with books is the initial force of the 
men and women who write. Whenever 
a great mind, or a great sympathy, be 
found which puts forth an appeal or a 
hope in the form of a book that has the 
power to touch those emotions or aspira- 
tions that all men have in common 
then the trick's done. The mechanical 
plans that we make have power to carry 
only as far as the book has strength to 
go. If I had five great living writers on 
my list, my publishing task would be 
easy. 

For the broadening of the book mar- 
ket, then, wh,at we need is writers 
writers of the proper quality. Of 
novels, we have enough and to spare, 
such as they are. But not of good books 



154 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

of other sorts. Let us take a hint from 
the novel writers. Twenty years ago or 
less the American public was amusing 
itself with novels written by English 
writers. But about that time came 
those story tellers, a whole army of 
them, who began to write about life in 
different parts of our own country. Of 
New England, Miss Jewett and Miss 
Wilkins and Mrs. Austin and many 
more ; in the Middle West, Mr. Garland, 
Mr. Churchill, Mr. Tarkington and half 
a hundred more; in New York, the 
author of "David Harum," Mr. Fred- 
erick, Mr. Bacheller and others; of the 
South, Mr. Page, Miss Johnston, Miss 
Glasgow and more ; and there are Cali- 
fornia stories in profusion. In other 
words, an army of men and women be- 
gan about the same time to write stories 
of local history and manners. 

Now there are other subjects that 
need to be written of just as much. One 
such subject is science. The world is 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 155 

flooded with popular books about 
science, but nearly all of them fail either 
in being accurate or in being popular. 
There is a better opportunity now than 
there ever was before for a man who 
really knows the most recent and scien- 
tific achievements, and who can write in 
the language of the people. To many 
people, "authoritative books" are dry 
books, but this is not what I mean. Such 
books as I have in mind can be written 
only by men of the best scientific equip- 
ment, but they can be written only by 
men who have also a great deal of liter- 
ary skill. 

Another great subject about which 
good books are needed is you may not 
believe this American history. Our 
political history has got itself pretty 
voluminously written, and there is no 
lack of slapdash books in distant imita- 
tion of Green's "Short History of the 
English People." But most of these 
have been prepared out of newspaper 



156 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

files by men who would not take their 
task seriously or who were not well pre- 
pared either in matured knowledge or in 
literary skill to produce them. Then, 
too, geographically considered, the his- 
tory of less than one-fourth of our terri- 
tory has not yet been written. Southern 
history, for example, is utterly un- 
known. 

It would be easy to name a half-dozen 
other great subjects which writers who 
now bring their manuscripts to the pub- 
lishing houses are neglecting. If, there- 
fore, men and women who have the lit- 
erary gift, even to a reasonable degree, 
and who have literary ambition, would 
frankly seek those two or three publish- 
ers who are real publishers and would 
prove their ability to do serious work of 
this sort they would be almost sure to 
find satisfactory careers before them. 
Of course, one disadvantage of such 
work is that during its early stages no 
very large financial returns can be ex- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 157 

pected. But if the work were done well 
enough it would pay in the end pay 
more money by far than a professorship 
in science or in history or in literature 
pays. 

All this leads me to this general re- 
mark that the writing public does not 
take the trouble to find out who the real 
publishers are. There is a lack of co- 
operation between publishers and writ- 
ers in what may be called the formative 
period of the writer's lives. A man who 
writes a book sends it to some publish- 
ing house that is chosen by accident or 
by personal acquaintance or by whim. 
The public seems to think that one pub- 
lishing house is as good as another. If a 
writer's first volume in this way falls 
into the hands of a publisher who does 
not make the acquaintance of the writer, 
or who cannot make an appraisal of his 
ability and promise, and who does not 
understand him, then the writer, after 
an initial failure, of course, becomes dis- 



i $8 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

couraged. On the other hand, all the 
publishers are so eager to get books that 
they accept work which is not properly 
done, and on their part fail to put them- 
selves into such a relation to young 
authors as would help them to their 
normal development. 

If a man or woman, therefore, pro- 
poses to enter upon a literary career his 
first duty is to make the acquaintance 
of a real publisher, to be as frank with 
him as one must be with one's physician 
or one's lawyer. If two such men work 
together seriously and without too great 
haste the best results will be achieved 
for both, and the best results are not 
likely to come in any other way. 

If you start, then, to gossip intelli- 
gently about the book market or about 
anything else with which a publisher 
has to do, and if you gossip long enough, 
you will come back to the starting point 
of the whole matter. What do we do or 
can we do to encourage the writing of 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 159 

good books? And now we've run on a 
subject as deep as a well and as wide as a 
door. In the multitude of counsellors 
about it there is confusion. In the only 
other "confession" that is to follow this 
I shall try to show how ignorant and 
mistaken all those are who differ with 
me about this fundamental subject. 



Plain Words to Authors and 
Publishers 



CHAPTER X 

PLAIN WORDS TO AUTHORS AND PUB- 
LISHERS 

It Pays the Author to Be Honest and Frank with 
His Publisher, Who Is, After All, His Best 
Friend Some Recent Instances of a Discour- 
aging Sort The Need of Greater Dignity and 
Statesmanship Among Publishers The Obli- 
gation of Ministering to the Higher Impulses 
of the People. 

I am flattered by hearing that a 
prominent publishing house wishes to 
print these rambling "confessions" in a 
pamphlet, to send to persons who write 
books; "for," says this house, "they 
tell some plain facts that authors ought 
to know." I hope so ; and, for my part, 
I am not averse to publishers knowing 
them either. For instance, the wretched 
smallness of one sinner among the pub- 
163 



1 64 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

lishers came to light to-day. Here is 
the unpleasant story: 

A year and a half ago I published the 
first novel by a young author. He is a 
promising writer and his story was a 
good one. We sold it in fairly satis- 
factory numbers. We advertised it, 
"exploited" it did the best we could. 
We invited the author to come and see 
us. We took him into our confidence. 
We have regarded him as our partner, 
so far as his book is concerned. We 
have had a continuous correspondence. 
We have exchanged visits a time or two. 
He paid me the compliment to ask my 
advice about his next story. We have 
become good friends, you see; and we 
are as helpful to each other as we know 
how to be. Now his second novel is 
finished. In a letter that came from 
him to-day he informed me that another 
publishing house (I have a great mind 
to write the name of it here) has made 
him a very handsome offer of serial pub- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 165 

lication, provided, of course, that they 
may also publish the book! 

Now, if the young author wishes to go 
browsing in these new pastures, I have 
no power or wish to prevent him. I 
cannot serve him or do not care to 
serve him if he is unwilling that I 
should. But I was nevertheless very 
grateful when he wrote, "Of course, I 
prefer you. I hope you have never 
thought me unloyal." 

If publishing his first book had been 
a mere job done under contract, a com- 
mercial job and nothing more that 
would have been one thing. But that's 
not publishing. What I did was to 
give the man the unstinted service of 
our house, as publishers, as advisers, as 
friends. We print and advertise and 
sell his books yes, to the very best of 
our ability. But we do more. We try 
to make friends for his book and for him 
throughout the reading world. We all 
take a personal interest in him and in 



1 66 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

his future. We invest our money, our 
good will, our work, our experience, our 
advice, our enthusiasm in him and in 
his future. This service (except the in- 
vestment of money) is not a matter of 
contract. It is a personal, friendly ser- 
vice. If the service had not been suc- 
cessful, he would have had a perfect 
right to come and say that he feared 
that we did not serve him well and to 
go away from us. That would have 
been frank and honorable. Even, since 
we did succeed and have become friends, 
he could still go to another publisher. 
Yet, I maintain, if he had, he would 
have shown himself a man of blunt 
appreciation and dull honor. And the 
publisher who tried to win him away 
did a trick unworthy of the profes- 
sion. 

This is my last story about a pub- 
lisher; and the moral is plain, alike to 
publisher and to author. 

And now I will tell my last story 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 167 

about an author, the moral of which also 
is plain: 

There is an author for whom we have 
published two books, and they have 
been uncommonly successful. A little 
while ago he finished his third book. 
He wrote that many publishers had so- 
licited it, that he had had several hand- 
some offers, that he needed a large sum 
of money. Would we make a big ad- 
vance payment? He disliked to men- 
tion the subject, but business was busi- 
ness after all. Now I had been at that 
man's service for several years. Day 
and night, he had sought my advice. ' 

Well, we were cajoled into making a 
big advance payment about half as 
big as he first asked for; and the con- 
tract was signed. Two days later, I 
met another publisher under conditions 
which invited free and friendly talk; 
and I told him this story. The pub- 
lisher smiled and declared that that 
author had approached him and asked 



i68 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

how much he would give for this very 
book! 

Men and brethren, we live in a com- 
mercial age. I suspect that, if we knew 
history well enough, we should discover 
that all ages have been commercial, and 
that all our predecessors had experiences 
like these. For ungrateful men have 
written books for many a century, I 
have no doubt; and we know that 
Barabbas was a publisher. But let us 
lift an honorable calling to an honorable 
level. Hence these frank " confessions." 
And, if any publisher wishes to reprint 
them to send to authors, or any author 
to send to publishers, they both have 
my permission. For dignity and honor 
thrive best in an atmosphere of perfect 
frankness. 

Thinking over the behavior of authors 
and publishers to one another, I am 
obliged to confess that, while the pea- 
nut methods that I have just described 
are not common enough to cause us to 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 169 

despair, the truth is that the whole 
business is yet somewhat unworthily 
conducted. I mean that it is con- 
ducted on too low a plane. For what 
is it that we are engaged in? 

The writers of good books are among 
the greatest benefactors of society ; and 
the publishers of good books, if publish- 
ing be worthily regarded and properly 
done, is a necessary and complimentary 
service. The publisher is the partner, the 
helper of the author and his high servant 
or minister to the people. It is work 
worthy of large men and of high- 
minded men. Honest men we are 
those of us who conduct the publishing 
houses that are in good repute. But I 
sometimes think that we miss being 
large men; for we do not do our busi- 
ness in (shall I say?) a statesmanlike 
way. We imitate the manners of trades- 
men. We speak in the vocabulary of 
tradesmen. We are too likely to look 
at small projects as important to pay 



i;o A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

our heed to the mere tricks of our trade 
and to treat large enterprises, if we 
have them, as if they were but a part 
of the routine. A good book is a Big 
Thing, a thing to be thankful to heaven 
for. It is a great day for any of us when 
we can put our imprint on it. Here is 
a chance for reverence, for something 
like consecration. And the man or the 
woman who can write a good book is a 
form of capital infinitely more attractive 
than a large bank account or a great 
publishing "plant." Yet, if we regard 
an author simply as "capital," we are 
not worthy to serve him. The relation 
leads naturally to a friendly and helpful 
attitude. We know something about 
books, about the book-market, about 
the public, that no author is likely to 
know. With this knowledge we can 
serve those that write. And with our 
knowledge of the author and of his work, 
we can serve the public. It is our habit 
to keep our accounts with authors ac- 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 171 

curately, to pay them promptly, to re- 
ceive them courteously when they call, 
to answer their letters politely and 
sometimes to bore them with formal 
dinners at our clubs, before they sail ^ 
for Europe. But how many of us really 
know the intellectual life of any author 
whose books we print and supply a 
stimulus to his best plans? 

And the authors? How little they 
know about us or about publishing! 
They seem to select publishers by whims 
and not often by knowledge. I know a 
writer of good books who is at this mo- 
ment seeking his third publisher. One 
of the others failed. The other dis- 
pleased him. And now he is thinking 
of giving his next book to a third pub- 
lisher who also will fail within five 
years, or I am no prophet. Yet I am 
hindered by courtesy from telling him 
so. Why the man has not by this time 
found a personality among the publish- 
ers who has a soundly constructed busi- 



IT 2 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

ness and at the same time a helpful 
intellectual appreciation of his work, I 
cannot understand. He, too, is looking 
at a great matter in a small way. 

Therefore I am led to write down 
these rules for an author to follow when 
he looks for a publisher: 

Find out whether the publishing 
house that you have in mind be finan- 
cially sound. The commercial agencies 
will tell you, or will tell any commercial 
friend who may make inquiry for you. 
And find out who the real owners of the 
house are. 

Then find out who conducts it. If it 
is conducted by a lot of hired " literary " 
men, avoid it. They are, most of them, 
men who have failed at authorship; 
they "read" and "advise" for salaries; 
and most of them know nothing about 
the houses that they serve. They are 
not principals, but (as Henry George 
once called them) "literary operatives." 
I mean to say nothing harsh about a 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 173 

well-meaning, hard-working class of 
men. But if you have a good book, you 
wish to find not a "literary operative," 
but a real publisher. 

Having found a real publisher, you 
will expect him to read your book him- 
self. I am assuming that you have an 
important book. When he has read it, 
he will talk to you about it frankly. 
When I say frankly, I mean frankly. If 
he is himself a real man and knows men 
and books, he will not retail hack lit- 
erary phrases to you. He will talk good 
English and good sense straight out of 
his intelligence to your intelligence, with 
no nonsense such as reviewers write in 
the "literary" magazines. He will be- 
come your intellectual friend. 

Having found such a man, give him 
your book and leave him to work out 
the details of publishing. He will be 
proud to serve you. You will discover 
as your acquaintance ripens, that he has 
your whole career as a writer in his mind 



174-4 PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

and plans. He will shape his whole 
publishing activities to your develop- 
ment and to the development of other 
writers like you. 

Then if you are capable of writing 
great books you will discover that you 
have set only natural forces at work for 
your growth and for your publisher's 
growth ; and the little artificial tricks of 
the trade whereby a flashy story has a 
"run" into swift oblivion will pass 
from your mind and from his. You 
will both be doing your best work. 

After all, the authors of any genera- 
tion generally have the publishers that 
they deserve to have; and this axiom 
is reversible. For my part, while I am 
as glad as Podunk, Exploitem & Com- 
pany to have novels that will sell 100,- 
ooo copies, provided they give clean and 
decent amusement, I take no permanent 
interest in anything that comes this 
month and goes the next ; nor does any 
serious man. My wish and aim is to 



A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 175 

become a helpful partner of some of the 
men and women of my generation who 
can, by their writings, lay the great 
democracy that we all serve under obli- 
gations to them for a new impulse. By 
serving them, I, too, serve my country 
and my time. And, when I say that 
this is my aim and wish, I could say with 
equal truth that it is the aim and wish 
of every other real publisher. But, as 
every good physician constantly won- 
ders at the ignorance and credulity of 
otherwise sensible men who seek quacks, 
so I wonder at the simplicity of many 
respectable writers of books in seeking 
publishers. Of downright quacks in the 
publishing world, there are not many. 
But there are incompetents a-plenty and 
a fair share of adventurers. 

We shall both authors and publish- 
ers get the proper cue if we regard the 
swarming, eager democracy all about us 
as a mass of constantly rising men and 
women, ambitious to grow, with the 



1 76 A PUBLISHER'S CONFESSION 

same higher impulses that we feel in our 
best moods; and if we interpret our 
duty as the high privilege of ministering 
to these higher impulses and not to their 
lower senses, without commercialism on 
one side and without academicism on 
the other, men among men, worthy 
among the worthy, we may make our 
calling under such a conception a call- 
ing that leads. 



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471 A publisher's confession 

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